I recently sat down with a friend who was going through some tough times due to a significant change in their life. One question that they asked me was, "What's the lesson that I can take from this? I've heard Romans 8:28 all of my life; where is the good in what I'm going through?" After a quick prayer, a few Bible stories hit my mind:
In John 11, we find this remarkable passage: "Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So, when He heard that he was sick, He stayed two more days in the place where He was.(verses 5-6, NKJV)" These two sentences seem so contradictory! In the first, we learn that Jesus loves; in the second, we learn that Jesus intentionally didn't come when He was needed. This juxtaposition is the basis for some major conflict later in the story, as Martha and Mary both struggle with their interpretation of His action/inaction. It feels as though his inaction is because of a lack of concern for their situation, and they confront Him about it in their own unique ways. If we only had verse 6, a case could certainly be made for Him "not caring"...but in order to get to that verse, we first had to read verse 5. John adds the simple declaration that Jesus loves them. It is a statement of fact with little room for ambiguity. THAT Jesus loves should not be up for debate; all that remains is to ask Him how what He did/didn't do helps us see that love in action. We might not always understand why God chooses to open or close certain doors, or why He allows or forbids certain things, but as long as we still trust that He is in control then we can ask Him to explain how what He does matches up with who we know that He is.
In Daniel 9, we see the aging prophet do just that. In Daniel 8, Daniel received a shocking vision that revealed the future using imagery of beasts and horns and conflict, and in the climax of the vision he learns that the events refer to things that will happen over the course of many centuries. Based on the prophecies of Jeremiah, he had expected that these events would only take 70 years (and would therefore only have just over a decade left before they were complete). So in Daniel 9, he prays a lengthy and heartfelt prayer begging God for forgiveness for sins and for Him to "not delay". Gabriel arrives in verse 21, and declares in verses 22-23: "O Daniel, I have now come forth to give you skill to understand. At the beginning of your supplications the command went out, and I have come to tell you, for you are greatly beloved; therefore consider the matter, and understand the vision." The fact that he was sent to answer Daniel's prayer as soon as Daniel opened his mouth to pray boggles my mind; how can he answer a prayer that he hasn't even asked yet? And then I realized that Daniel 9 doesn't happen *immediately* after Daniel 8; in fact, roughly 15 years have passed between the two chapters. For 15 years, Daniel wrestled with the vision of Daniel 8. For 15 years, Daniel prayed and pleaded because of the message of Daniel 8. Gabriel knew how to answer this prayer because he'd heard it over and over again. That's when it hit me: it wasn't until a decade and a half of Daniel praying that same prayer that God knew that Daniel was ready to hear the answer to his prayers. God could have absolutely revealed the truth that very night in Daniel 8 & moved along with running the rest of the universe...but He knew that Daniel wasn't ready for the answer yet. And in the same way, many of us aren't ready for His answer...yet.
So that's what I told my friend that day. Romans 8:28 is still true! God does work things out for good. But because He's in control, we have to recognize that His way of working out good might not be our way of working out good (just like it wasn't for Jesus with Martha, Mary, and Lazarus). And it might take some time before we're ready to see the good working out in hindsight (just like it took Daniel several years before he was ready to see the solution).
And that's what I'm telling you today: trust in God, and trust in His process.