And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.
"Does God wear a seat belt?"
That was the question my 5 year old daughter asked me on the drive to kindergarten yesterday. I thought hard to myself before I answered. Anthropomorphically speaking, the answer is "no". I didn't actually use the word "anthropomorphically" with my 5 year old daughter, but thinking about the myriad of theological problems in buckling the God of the universe into a car seat, I decided to do the best I could with the teachable moment at hand.
"Why would God wear a seat belt when He already knows, plans and creates everything on the road ahead of Him?" I answered.
"God would probably never break the law..." she rebutted and then paused, "...but who would give Him a ticket if He did?" We both laughed at her 5 year old reasoning. I smiled even more at her high view of the Almighty.
She then went on to spontaneously quote her memory verse for the week, which just so happened to be Romans 8:28, which also happens to be the real answer to the question, "Does God were a seat belt?" I love how God tenderly responds to our teachable moments.
Sometimes the answers come so light and easy, and sometimes everyday life is the clearest commentary to difficult passages. Sometimes the ride to kindergarten is a joyous opportunity for higher education. Sometimes the innocent musings of a 5 year old little girl make God look greater than a shelf full of theology books.
But most times, life is difficult and understanding is darkened, and all we have is a view of the road before us through a dirty windshield, and elementary theology will not keep our porous faith afloat. Most times it is difficult to see that "all things" really mean "all things".
I am a police officer and my wife is a neonatal ICU nurse. Believe it or not, we often deal with the exact same people in our line of work. I will arrest a pregnant, drug addicted, mother of three for shoplifting and two weeks later my wife will receive her baby in the NICU. My wife will then nurse the drug addicted baby through the horrible withdrawals, and remorsefully hand her over to the drug addicted mother to take home.
A few weeks later, I will get a call of a domestic disturbance and go to the residence to find the same mother strung out on heroin and beaten up by an ex-boyfriend. I will then call Child Protective Services to come get the baby until the mother can get her life straightened out. Tax dollars will pay for foster care, counseling, rehab and parental skills classes, and if the mother convinces CPS that she is once again fit for motherhood, the baby will be handed back to her waiting arms.
Or the mother can opt out of the entire plan and simply get pregnant again, restarting the (almost unbelievable) continuous cycle of parental depravity.
Add to this cruel story the fact that this couple (the cop and the nurse, that is) were never able to have biological children of their own, and the irony falls on them like bricks from a crumbling government project. They spend their lives rescuing the offspring of the often uncaring, thankless and unbelieving, only to be a working cog in the cyclical system which they abhor.
So where does Romans 8:28 fit in this scenario? I'm not specifically thinking about the addicted mother, or the ex-boyfriend who beat her up, or the drug dealer who got her hooked on heroin, or the wayward father who never gave her enough love or attention. Although common grace is extended to them as well, the verse specifically states that only “for those who love God” does God work “all things for good”. Only to those “called” is His purpose for good extended as a surprising gift.
But what about the cop who trusts God, loves Jesus and is indwelled by the Spirit only to experience a constant barrage of evil that breeds wasted lives, sinful suffering, tragic death and cynical attitudes? How are “all things” working for good in his life?
And what about the NICU nurse who loves God and spends a lifetime praying over her own empty womb while delivering drug addicted babies, caring for them with all her heart, coddling uncaring, drug addicted, government aided parents, only to hand the child over to a mother who will steal the baby’s medication and allow the child to suffer though the withdrawals of her own imputed addiction? Where can she find God, or good, or meaning in “all things”?
As much as I hate quoting philosophers, Sören Kirkegard got it right when he said, "It is perfectly true, as philosophers say, that life must be understood backwards. But they forget the other proposition, that it must be lived forwards.”
Live life forwards; understand life backwards. I think that is at least (a) key in understanding “All things”.
So, let's take a glance backwards about 18 years, at the forward lived lives of the cop and the nurse.
One morning, the nurse comes home from a long, harrowing shift at the hospital and tells the cop of a beautiful baby boy that she has been caring for over the past few days. A note on the baby's isolette indicates that the child has been abandoned by the drug addicted birth mother and is awaiting CPS to place him in the foster system. The couple immediately obtain legal counsel and adopt the little boy. The little boy grows up, leads the adoptive parents to Christ and changes the lives of countless people all over the world for the glory of God.
Perhaps it is significant to mention that this child is the biological son of a drug addicted mother and father, he is autistic, cannot speak, is physically disabled and has the permanent cognitive ability of a two-year-old. And "all things" in his broken body display the glory of God and work for good in the lives that are touched by his silent testimony.
Only God could put together a story like that. He writes it forwards, with purpose, beauty, mercy and grace. But it did not look like it was ever heading in that direction. In reality, it rarely does. That is what makes grace so amazing and so sweet.
As stated above with little effect, I dislike quoting philosophers. Even more, I detest using cheesy, shallow analogies to explain the infinitely deep things of God. But sometimes we must use the mundane to bring the profound to the simple. And we are all simpletons to God.
So, with some reluctance and the humble realization of an anthropomorphically limited application, here it is:
It’s sort of like riding shotgun with God. He’s driving fast--almost reckless, with one hand on the wheel. As per our argument above, He’s not wearing a seat belt. Even more frightening, He doesn’t even appear to be paying attention to the road signs, construction barriers or potholes. He seems too interested in carrying on a conversation with you to watch where He is going. And He’s smiling while he drives. He’s smiling because only He knows where you’re going.
You, on the other hand, are sitting white knuckled in the passenger seat watching the scenery flash by like a cartoon flip book written in Chinese. The road signs are all blank. Nothing makes sense. Nothing appears good. “Slow down!” you scream in your mind. “Watch out for that hole! What did that sign say?! Wasn't that our exit? Where are we going anyway!!!?"
Then nervously, almost out of desperation to find an answer to your unintentionally rhetorical questions, you look in the rear view mirror and see that the hole is gone. The road is paved smooth. Everything is moving slowly and clearly. All the signs are visible and readable. They weren't blank, they were just facing the opposite direction, written backwards to be read only in the mirror as you pass.
Everything you see is filled in with indescribable color and hue. All the chaos before you has been turned into meaning and purpose behind you. You cannot take it all in, but you see clearer and you trust deeper. It would be tempting to stare into the mirror for the entire trip, but looking backwards and driving forwards is a queasy recipe for car sickness.
So you face forward, sit back and ease into your seat--gazing on His face, glancing at the road, and glimpsing in the rear view mirror. You begin to find assurance in His hand on the wheel and eventually discover comfort and confidence in His mysterious smile. Still, you keep your seat belt buckled and hold on tight. After all, He is God and you are not.
Knowing how you are made, He whispers in a reassuring tone, "All things are going as planned".
“Everything?” you ask.
“All things”, He smiles.