Bringing Good Out of Evil
The life of the Christian is based on and modeled after that of Jesus Christ. Christ persevered in his faith in spite of pressures to compromise and was killed because of it. Nevertheless, his death was reversed into life and was overcome through resurrection. Jesus’s ironic overcoming is pictured in Revelation 5:5–6, 11–12:
Behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah. . . . And I saw . . . a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain. . . . And I heard the voice of many angels . . . saying with a loud voice, “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!”
Jesus conquered the forces of evil through both his death and his resurrection. John first hears that Jesus overcame as a lion (Rev. 5:5), but when he sees a vision of his Lord, he perceives exactly in what manner Jesus won his victory: Jesus overcame by being overcome at the cross. The cross itself was an invisible victory over satanic forces and was subsequently expressed visibly in his resurrection body. So the Lamb slew his spiritual opponents by allowing himself to be slain temporarily (see Rev. 1:18; cf. 4:67 and 5:5–6 with 15:21). This is why immediately before his death he told his disciples, “Take courage; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).
A New Testament scholar shows how God has used irony throughout history in order to put his own wisdom and glory on display, using what is weak and foolish to accomplish his purposes.
Christians should reflect in their lives the same paradoxical pattern of their Lord’s life. We also must persevere in faith through temptations to compromise. When we remain steadfast in belief, we also, like our Savior, will suffer tribulation. Yet our victory lies in the continued maintenance of faith in the face of discouraging circumstances. Jesus says, “If any one wishes to come after me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me” (Matt. 16:24). Christ is saying not merely that we should model our lives after his life but that it must be so modeled, and will be, if we are genuine believers. Christians must overcome through faith while suffering, as Jesus did.
God Works For Our Good
It is helpful to focus on Romans 8:28 in its immediate context in Romans 8. Just as God did for his Son, so for his adopted sons he is always at work turning bad situations ultimately (whether in this life or later) into good ones, reversing defeat into victory. This general principle of ironic reversion, according to which God is constantly working in favor of his people, is set forth lucidly in this twenty-eighth verse: “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God,” those who have trusted in Christ’s saving death (see also Rom. 8:30–34). Roman Christians to whom Paul was writing needed to be reminded of this truth since they were undergoing various forms of suffering and persecution because of their faith. Just as we today might be tempted to feel forsaken by God, so Paul’s original readers were fearful that their lamentable circumstances could be an indication that God had abandoned and forgotten them. Beleaguered Christians at Rome apparently were unaware that nothing could separate them from the love of Christ, whether “tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword” (Rom. 8:35).
God is unswervingly active in bringing about good from troublesome circumstances in the Christian’s life, whether persecution, illness, sin, and all those things that affect us in a fallen world. Although at times it may not be apparent that God is acting for our welfare, such is truly the case. We need to believe in God’s promise and not merely in external factors. Since God has shown that he is for us because he “did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all,” nothing in the created order “will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 8:32, 39).
Jesus conquered the forces of evil through both his death and his resurrection.
Victory Through Suffering
Paul’s principle has been illustrated in Armando Valladares’s account of his experiences in a Cuban prison. Valladares suffered an unjust twenty-two-year prison sentence in Communist Cuba. He said after his release:
Political prisoners were executed by firing squads. . . . Night after night the firing was punctuated with cries of ‘Long live Christ the King!’ . . . from prisoners as they went to their deaths. . . . I was taken to Boniato prison. . . . All the doors and windows were steel-shuttered. That period was one of the worst. But I felt myself neither alone nor abandoned because God was with me inside that jail. The greater the hatred my jailors directed at me, the more my heart brimmed over with Christian love and faith.1
However, while God gave Valladares spiritual victory in the midst of physical suffering, he also caused Valladares’s horrible imprisonment to work together for good through his subsequent release to the free world.
Paul compares Christians undergoing adversity to slaughtered sheep: “For Your sake . . . we were considered as sheep to be slaughtered” (Rom. 8:36). Not that every Christian dies for the faith, but “slain sheep” becomes a symbol of the woes that believers endure in their life of faith. Nonetheless, surely “in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer [or overcome] through Him [Christ] who loved us” (Rom. 8:37). Paul is recalling to his readers’ minds that their lives must follow the same ironic path of their Savior, who won a victory in the midst of dying. Christ’s followers can overcome in no other way than that which Jesus did—through being faithful in the midst of defeat or suffering, even up to the point of death. The apostle John aptly summarizes this idea:
For whatever is born of God overcomes the world; and this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith. Who is the one who overcomes the world, but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God? (1 John 5:4–5)
For such people “God causes all things to work together for good.”
- See Armando Valladares, “Inside Castro’s Prisons,” Time, August 15, 1983, 20.
This article is adapted from Redemptive Reversals and the Ironic: Overturning of Human Wisdom by G. K. Beale.
Paul Miller shares his story of learning to love by discovering the pattern of Jesus’s life.
Retributive and restorative irony ultimately finds its zenith of expression at the cross.
Like the letter “J,” Jesus’s life descends through his incarnation and then death, and then upward into his resurrection and exaltation.