Every good Christian friend to the hurting has Romans 8:28 in their back pocket. I’m going to say that there’s a good time to use it and a proper way to use it, but also potentially really bad times to use it. The naysaying masses roar, “It’s scripture!!! How dare you say it isn’t helpful! You should always be thankful for someone sharing GOD’S WORD with you!” Don’t throw your stones yet. This is not a difficult thing to explain.
If someone close to you just lost a love one, would you gently approach them and say, “Hey . . . God’s got you, don’t ever forget that . . . also, remember what it says in the Psalms, ‘Happy shall he be, that taketh and dasheth thy little ones against the stones.’” There’s great truth in that verse. Don’t you dare question me for sharing God’s Word. Can we all agree to discourage one another from using this text in this setting? (And actually, that verse is talking about the ceasing of evil Babylon . . . so evil coming to an end – usable when someone’s going through a hard time? Still, no. Please don’t.)
In perhaps a more subtle way, we need to be careful about how we use Romans 8:28. It says, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.”
Let me get one clarification out of the way which most probably are readily aware of: this verse is for believers who are called and will one day be glorified by the grace of God. Yes, all things work together for good, for God-followers. The destination of many is the lake of fire (Rev. 21:8). That will be their damnation, not their good.
To the point, however, we misuse this verse with believers.
Here’s my suggested rule of thumb: If you legitimately think someone should stop being upset, or if you want to help them “not be so upset,” do not use Romans 8:28. Consider that you should actually be more upset yourself in that moment.
I hate to see people cry. I hate crying. I tend to role my eyes when kids fall off their bikes. Don’t be so wobbly and clumsy little dude—rub some dirt on it. You’ll be fine (I just lost all my mom-readers, sorry, back to the point).
Here’s a fact: Scripture says weep with those who weep (Romans 12:15). “Rejoice-ers” might need to weep when they’re “not feelin’ it” and vice versa. But when someone is weeping, grieving, sorrowing, having a panic attack, missing their mom, struggling with their grades, broke their leg (maybe because they fell off their bike), take a moment to weep with them! Seriously. You’re not spiritual because you don’t cry. You might be calloused! Try this, “Man, I’m so sorry. I can’t imagine what you’re going through. Let’s go to God for help. There are some things in life we just will not understand, but God is good.” Hurt with them if we’re a body like Romans 12 talks about. And use scripture that talk about those things. But don’t use any of those passages to tell the other person to “just cheer up.”
Here’s another fact: Scripture says to bear one another’s burdens (Galatians 6:2), and so fulfill the law of Christ. If you’re a strong Christian because you are rarely moved by the needs and hurts of others, and you want to be “steadfast, immovable always abounding in the work of the Lord” but you haven’t hurt in a while maybe you need to abound more in His work toward those who are hurting. Did Christ’s work involve bearing the burdens of the hurting? If you believe the gospel, you believe that.
Let me tell you something scary that I’ve heard as my wife and I have been vocal about our recent trials. I’m summarizing things we’ve heard a lot over the years, “If I share what I’m going through, I’m afraid I’m going to be hurt again. I feel like an inferior Christian because I have no happy pictures to put on Facebook like your happy Christian families. Then, when I do share my hurts, the Bible is used to shut up my hurt. It’s like I’m not allowed to talk about my hurt because someone gave me a Bible verse and that should be the end of it.” Or, “I don’t want to be a downer on everyone at church.” How sad. All things work together for good. Together implies the timeline and circumstances involved in getting from point groan to point glorification are not always good, or happy. And—get this—it means that we are right in groaning, weeping, and suffering. Not as evildoers, as Peter reminds us. This is not an appeal for the excuse to complain. This is an appeal for believers to weep together. And I can tell you that my wife and I have experienced the tangible joy (while we’re sobbing in grief) of growing closer to our church people and to Christ because of what people have said about our hurts, “This is hard. This hurts.” Because they’re bearing our burdens.
Some would perhaps use Philippians 4:8 to say that you shouldn’t say things that make people sad. After all, the things that are of good report. “I still miss my wife/dad/brother that passed away last year,” isn’t news that puts on the smiles. But it’s good. It’s right. It’s holy. And if we don’t want to kill our churches, we need to listen to more of it. God kept David’s tears in a bottle (Psalm 56:8). Apparently, our tears are a precious thing. It is often good and right to think on that which brings tears. Yes, there is the danger of being selfish and “woe-is-me.” But sharing your hurt, and being part of the body that bears one another’s burdens is not that. Perhaps if you heard of a recent salvation of someone’s soul, take a moment to smile in thankfulness and shout a praise to the Lord—and you can still be grieving a loss. My prayer for my church is for us to excel in our rejoicing and weeping together. Walking through the valley of the few smiles my wife and I are experiencing with our church people—some feeling better than us, and some, I’m sure are feeling worse—has been such a healthy thing. I give God praise for it.