Thirty years ago, having recently returned to my faith and the Church, my mother asked me to choose a favourite Scripture passage for her to stitch on a wall hanging for me. I don't remember the process I went through in choosing the reading, but the end result still hangs on my wall, "God makes all things work for good for those who love him."
That Scripture, over the intervening years, has anchored me in hope, courage and trust in a way that no other passage has done. I think I am not alone in my esteem for those words and that truth, for it is a Scripture that nourishes the faith of many people.
Superficially, the promise could be seen as somewhat benign; describing a God who has enough power to make the best of bad situations, and enough care for us that he consistently does so if we remain open to his action. It could be understood as speaking of God's action as though God were almost opportunistic, waiting for a chance to be at work in us, and having our attention and the opportunity when bad things happen.
So while this understanding can inspire faith and confidence in us, it is a picture of God allowing human life to run its course, working with the situ- ations as they come along; in doing so, it assumes limits to God's power.
While it is an attempt to reconcile human freedom with the truth of God's love and power, it discounts the great mystery of the reality of the co-existence of our free will and God's infinite power and love. On the one hand, without God we can do nothing. On the other hand, he sets before us this day both life and death, and we must choose life. Our attempts to find simple understandings often result in imagining limits to God.
Over the years, for me, this passage has opened the way to a different understanding and deeper reliance on God. I no longer look upon God as using bad situations for our good. Rather there is a mystery of God's presence and action in all things that does not negate our ability to choose.
Here is another way to say it - when we surrender to God in obedience and love; we become the branches on the vine that is God.
Like a branch on the vine, the very being of God is a part of us, the life of God himself moves through us. It is not so much that God comes along to work in situations for our good, but rather those situations are simply the context for the constant and continuing action of God in our lives, as he accomplishes his will and purpose for us and within us.
So we can live with hope in the midst of real difficulties, disappointments, anxieties and losses because of our certainty that God is at work in all through his grace and love.
(Kathleen Giffin firstname.lastname@example.org)