And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. Romans 8:28
In a world where nothing works right, where even love itself is subject to perversion and pain, this is a most amazing hope. In Christ, everything in your life works as it should.
Of course that "as it should" needs to be qualified. I don't mean "as it was originally created to" of course, or that would mean that sickness would be gone, sin would be a thing of the past, and there would be no struggle. And "as it should" doesn't mean "as we would like it to" because, well, obviously that's not the case. As I write this, it's the middle of 2020, a year that will be forever marked as the year nothing went as it should. And yet, Paul's words are clear. All things work together for good.
God has not removed us from the world of the curse. "As it should," in the gospel, means something different. Something surprising. Something almost impossible to believe. In Christ, for something to "work as it should" means that it will work towards God's purpose for his people, guaranteed. God will not fail to bring those whom he calls to glory, to finish and perfect Christ-likeness in them, and part of how he secures that total victory is by claiming every hurt, every sin, every failure, every betrayal, every weakness, and every injustice for his own use, as another step towards glory, another step deeper into God, another level of knowing his love.
If you were to make a list of all the bad things you've done in the past year, and add to it all the bad things other people have done to you, and add to that all the bad things that happened simply as a result of living in a broken world, and add to that all the bad things that have no recognizable explanation whatsoever, you would have listed a very high percentage of what God intends to use in your life to make you more like Christ and more completely the person he has already declared you to be in Christ. This is the list of tools by which he is shaping you. These things register as high on God's list of methods as going to church or reading your Bible. In fact, I'd argue that one of the key reasons to keep going to church and reading your Bible is to help you to interpret the "bad" in light of the "good" God is working on your behalf.
The key to all this is love. Only this time I mean your love of God, that comes in response to and is a reflection of his love. When you love him responsively, according to the love he has already shown you and given you, you will trust him with this work of making all things work as they should in your life. You'll know he would never do anything to hurt or destroy you, he who has already called you his son and moved in to be with you for the remainder of your life: "for those who love God all things work together for good."
It's his purpose for you that you must understand and embrace if you want to truly see how the hard things are working together for your good. Your purpose is simple (though not easy): to be loved by God and, as an extension of that, to love others as he has loved you. AKA, your purpose is to become like Christ. If your purpose is to be happy, to be strong, to be successful in life, then you cannot embrace failure, weakness, and pain as things that work. They are only signs that things don't work. But see, that's the curse talking. And it has a point. Things are really broken.
The gospel talks back, and the gospel talks louder. It tells the curse, "Fine. Do your worst. I'll do mine." And the gospel shames the craftiness of the enemy by taking the very thing that proves the enemy's control and turning it into an instrument that chisels another contour of the image of Christ out of a sinful human being.
Chiseling, I imagine, hurts the lump of clay, and so this broken world hurts us as it is used to shape and fashion us. But we cannot mistake pain for lack of love. Pain, in God's hands, is the loving work of a creator who will not stop short of perfection. And he will not give us more than we can bear. In the midst of the pain, he intercedes for us, he holds us up, he encourages us, he sends people our way.
If you’re like most people, a lot has "gone wrong" in your life. Things have not gone how you expected, nor have they gone how you wanted, nor have they (in the cases of sin) even been God's "will" for you. But look where they've gotten you. Look where they've pointed you. Straight to the face of God, to learn who he is and how he loves you. If you continue in this, your faith, hope, and love will have grown in size and in strength. Your patience, humility, and disgust of sin will have increased. Your desire to be pure and holy will have intensified, and you will have grown in your ability to be so.
So, did those things "work as they should", according to God's purpose? I don't know exactly where your heart is towards God as you’re reading this. Maybe you’re reading it because, thanks to all that has gone wrong in your life, you sense your deep thirst for God. If that is the case, then I am confident all of it is starting to take its proper effect in you. It's working.
In spite of - no, because of - all that went wrong, and because you have allowed his love to speak to you, you are more like Christ today than you were a year ago.
And a year from now, if you continue to "hang" on his love for you, to hope in his perfect system, you will be more like Christ than you are today.
Claim it. Set aside (that is, schedule) an hour or two sometime in the near future to read through the gospel of Mark. Read it with this lens: look for all the ways things "went wrong" for Jesus in his life. Things he could have dwelled on as reasons to doubt God's love for him. Your lens should also help you to see how his disciples objected to the injustices and wrongs that Jesus suffered. Listen to what he tells them in response. Walk with Jesus for an hour or two and let him tell you about his life, and how God worked all things together for his good and for the purpose according to which he had called Jesus.