Saint Paul’s insistence that all things work for good for those who love God, might perhaps be thought of as his expression of a similar conviction captured in that pious aphorism: God writes straight on crooked lines. As comforting as these words can be to the suffering and perplexed Christian, it is important that they not be misunderstood or trivialized. For, the truth that Paul’s words convey is anything but trivial and when truly understood, and firmly held on to in faith, assumes supreme importance and possesses eternal consequences.
Before considering these consequences, it might be helpful to point out what Paul is not saying. All things working for good for those who love God is not an invitation to adopt a careless, irresponsible, and childish approach to existence because whatever I do (good or bad) God will ultimately bring good out of it. Nor is Paul suggesting that all that happens is what God actively wills and is part of his masterplan for humanity. Still less is it a call to passively endure suffering, injustice, and other forms of evil because these are, as it were, what God needs to bring about our good.
What Paul does seem to be teaching, is that for those who love God and trust God implicitly, everything that happens to us—good and evil—will be transformed (in the light of eternity) for our ultimate good and happiness. This is to affirm that, ultimately, nothing can thwart God’s desire and power to save those who wish to receive his gift of salvation and be eternally united to him in love. Only the human heart resolutely closed to God’s love and his invitation to friendship can thwart God’s ability to save us. Even then, God’s love attempts to use all that happens to soften the hearts of the recalcitrant.
I noted a moment ago that God transforms all that happens to us for our ultimate good and happiness—that is our eternal good, and not necessarily our present earthly good. This is where faith has to become central. Although Paul’s words are comforting, much of the good that God brings out of the bad and negative things that we suffer, will only become obvious when we pass from this world into eternity. It is true that we do occasionally catch glimpses of the working out of Paul’s assurance as we look back on dark periods of our lives and see some of the good that flowed from that experience.
Somewhat paradoxically, some of these dark periods result not from suffering and evil emanating from our sinful world, but, mysteriously, from the purifying and sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit. Spiritual trials, aridity, acedia, and dark nights of the spirit, all call for the deepest faith that in these too God is working for the good with those who love and trust him despite every feeling to the contrary. And so, perhaps, the sentiments of the Serenity Prayer are a suitable way of responding to the sufferings, trials, and seeming tragedies of life. Thus, we need to pray for the Serenity to endure the painful things we cannot change or escape, the Courage to confront and transform the sufferings we can change, the Wisdom to discern and know the difference, and, finally, the Faith to trust that in all these things God is working for our good and eternal happiness.