I’m now blogging about chapter fourteen of my book. We now enter into the second part of my book. The first part was devoted to narratives, and the second part is devoted to letters.
Whenever something tragic happens, someone would inevitably quote Rom. 8.28 as part of life’s answers. Whatever tragedy it is, somehow this is the magical verse that solves all problems. The problem with such an approach is that our experiences tell us that not everything works out at all. How do you say that verse to a mother who just lost a child in a tragic accident or someone who was just raped or someone whose child had committed suicide? Such situations are no joking matter. A loose quotation from Holy Scripture in such a time sounds more like a slap in the face than faithful assurance.
Our interpretive solution should follow these steps. First, we have to look at the function of Rom. 8.28 within Rom. 8. I guarantee you that it has nothing to do with life’s tragedies simply because none of such tragedies were the focal point of the passage. Sure, Paul did talk about the possible difficulties Christian might experience that might be related to becoming Christians (e.g. Rom. 8.35). He was not talking about general problems in all things.
Second, we have to look at Rom. 8 as part of the argument in Rom. 7 where Paul talked about the life under the law in contrast with Rom. 8 where Paul talked about the life in the Spirit. How would Rom. 8.28 fit within that framework?
Third, we have to look at how Rom. 7-8 fits within the whole book of Romans. If we were to nail down what Rom. 8.28 meant or did not mean, we have to understand the role of Rom. 7-8 not as one essay but as part of the essay that precedes Rom. 9-11 and as a follow-up to Rom. 1-6.
Fourth, clearly, when Paul first wrote Romans, he intended his letter to be read in light of his missionary situation. In his relational discussion with his readers, he made it clear that he wanted to see them (Rom. 1.11; 15.23-29). How would the verse Rom. 8.28 fit into THAT?
In summary, in order for our meaning of Rom. 8.28 to be valid, it must answer the following questions. First, how does it fit with Rom. 8? Second, how does it fit within Rom. 7-8? Third, how does it fit with Rom. 7-8 in light of Rom. 1-6 and 9-11? Fourth and finally, how would such a statement, after answering all the above questions fit Paul’s missionary purpose? So, before you quote a verse to speak into someone’s life, please check on these questions. Careless quotations can cause more harm than good. The problem then is not the lack of faith in God’s word (i.e. Rom. 8.28) but the abuse of it.
As I always say, the texts are not at fault. The interpreter is!