All Things Work Together for Good
A certain catechist in a rural African village had a favourite saying, “If this did not happen, something worse could have happened.” When a man comes to him crying that his bicycle has been stolen, his words of admonition were, “Take heart, if this did not happen, something worse could have happened.” When a woman loses her husband or new-born child, his predictable admonition to her was, “God knows the best; if this did not happen, something worse could have happened.” Now this was getting on the nerves of the villagers. They deemed the catechist naive and insensitive. As a reality check, the rough boys of the village decided to teach him a bitter lesson. They decided to kill the catechist’s son and see what he would say.
The catechist’s son usually played soccer with the village boys. The boys hatched a plan one evening to mob and kill him on their way back from the football playground. Just before the end of game that fateful day, the ball was kicked across the road. The catechist’s son ran to retrieve the ball and was knocked down by a passing car. He sustained multiple cuts and bruises, for which he was taken to the local hospital. This means that the plan of the boys to mob and kill him that evening had failed. On hearing what happened, the villagers came to sympathise with the catechist. All that the catechist said was, , “If this did not happen, something worse could have happened.” How right he was!
Luke 24:26-43" src="http://www.giaoly.org/en/wp-content/uploads/2011/07/jesus_teaching_a_new_commandment-252x300.jpg" alt="" width="252" height="300" srcset="http://www.giaoly.org/en/wp-content/uploads/2011/07/jesus_teaching_a_new_commandment-252x300.jpg 252w, http://www.giaoly.org/en/wp-content/uploads/2011/07/jesus_teaching_a_new_commandment.jpg 539w" sizes="(max-width: 252px) 100vw, 252px" />In today’s second reading, from the Letter of Paul to the Romans, we read that “all things work together for good for those who love God” (Romans 8:28). This is a very important teaching that could transform the life of every child of God into a life of peace and happiness. Having given our lives to God, we have God’s assurance that whatever He allows to manifest in our lives, no matter how painful it might be, is indeed for our own good. Whatever pill a mother or father gives the child, no matter how bitter it is to swallow, is intended for the good of the child. The bitter pill might be administered to cure a present illness or to forestall a possible illness in the future. If children were mature enough to realise this truth, they would not cry so much when they are receiving their vaccinations. As mature children of God, we should receive everything and everyone that God sends into our lives, knowing that it is for our ultimate good.
But how we often behave like immature children, raising a tantrum and running away as the divine physician visits us to administer the painful or bitter remedy. God allows some sickness to visit us and we immediately quit trusting Him and go shopping for any self-styled healer. God sends us a partner to bring us to our knees and we run to file for divorce. God allows our church to experience humiliation in order to bring us to the right path and we immediately think of leaving the church. If only we knew and believed that all these things work together for our good, we might have exercised more patience in such trying times.
Today, the word of God invites us to trust more fully and more unconditionally in God’s goodness, no matter the condition in which we find ourselves. This does not mean that we should not make an effort to change the bad conditions of our lives, as if everything that comes to us was directly sent by God. No, that would be determinism. When we are sick we should take steps to change the situation by going to a hospital. When we are jobless we should take steps to change the situation by looking for a job or training for one. But we must work for change not with the belief that overcoming the bad situation is a test of whether God is with us or not, but with a disposition of implicit confidence in God’s unconditional love for us. The prophet Habakkuk gives us an example in this regard when he prays:
Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines,
though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food,
though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls,
yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will be joyful in God my Saviour. (Habakkuk 3:17-18)
Before we conclude this reflection we must say a word about predestination. Our passage is one of the few Bible passages that speak of predestination. What does the Bible teach on predestination? Predestination simply means that God has a goal for each and everyone of us before He created us. It does not mean that we must attain that goal, whether we like it or not. There are two ways of understanding biblical predestination. One is to understand predestination as tantamount to determinism. Here it is believed that whatever happens and whatever we do in life, including whether we end up in heaven or in hell, is already predetermined and preplanned by God. The universal Church rejects this understanding because it effectively denies human free will. The other way of understanding predestination is to see it as God’s benevolent plan for all His children, although we still retain the freedom to say yes or no to God’s plan for our lives. This is a more balanced understanding of the Bible’s teaching on predestination.
God’s word today invites us to cooperate with God’s plan for our lives. We do this by trusting God completely and submitting our lives’ plans to God’s great design for us, knowing that “all things work together for good for those who love God” (Romans 8:28). In the face of the contrarieties of life, may we always remind ourselves that “If this did not happen, something worse could have happened.”