The Evangelical Universalist Forum

A good ending only for those who are called

My question relates to Romans 8:28:

" And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose."

Isn’t this a problem for universalists?
At face value it seems to say that good will come to a subset of humanity rather than the whole of humanity. To paraphrase, God will ensure that whatever happens to those He has called will eventually be for their good. It implies that there must be another subset (ie those who are not called or who do not love God) and it seems reasonable to infer that these people will suffer things that will not work for their good. If this is not the case, then why wouldn’t the text read:
“And we know that all things work together for good to all those who are made in His image” (or similar).

I have my own idea of how this text may be interpreted without doing damage to the universalist’s theology but I would like to hear other friend’s suggestions before I post my thoughts.
Any ideas anyone?

Well there are different kinds of universalists so as for me i think that the great majority of folks saved will be after death through the Lake of Fire so this kind of verse of which there are many (narrow gate vs wide gate) pertain to this age where Satan is the god of this world.

I note that there is no “his” in the original Greek of Romans 8:28. I suppose it was added by the KJV translators because they inferred that it was God’s purpose. I also suppose the translators could have been correct.

Next, the question is "who is meant by ‘the called’? The Greek word apparently means “invited” so who are the invited? My mind went to the passage in Luke 14:23 when Jesus told the parable of the Great Supper. The master said to the servant, “Go out into the highways and hedges, and compel them to come in, that my house may be filled.” Many translations use the words compel them, but, as C S Lewis points out: “when we look at standard dictionaries’ definitions, these words certainly seem overly strong.” Most certainly, much stronger than a simple “invited”.

More from Lewis:

He explains in his book Surprised by Joy , how these words and this translation have been twisted over time. The words “ compel them” actually imply divine mercy.

He writes:

“…the words compelle intrare , compel them to come in, have been so abused by wicked men that we shudder at them; but, properly understood, they plumb the depth of the Divine mercy.”

And then goes on to say,

“The hardness of God is kinder than the softness of men, and His compulsion is our liberation.”

That’s my two cents worth.

Thanks for your thoughts Steve.
So are you saying that the “good” in the text refers to this age? I think I must be missing something because many ‘saints’ have a bad end in this age but that will work for their good in the next. Those who do not believe in this age will eventually experience what is good (according to universalists) because the purifying fire of ‘hell’ will produce this good.
Forgive me if I have not followed what you are saying. Perhaps you could expound if I have misunderstood?

Thanks Norm. I think the comparison with the compulsion from the highways and hedges is certainly a more hopeful and ‘universal’ text, which is an encouragement. But the text in Romans specifically refers to “them that love God” which does seem more narrow and exclusive.
I wish I had a pound for every time I heard a christian quote the Romans text either applying it to themselves (or to me) in order to suggest that there is an over-riding good purpose hidden within the distress and suffering that is being experienced. I can understand that they mean to extract or bring comfort but there is a little voice inside me which says “yea, well that’s ok for you/me but what about those who do not love God and yet are suffering greatly, do they not matter to us?”
Hope some of that makes sense.
Thanks for your input.

PS thank you for that wonderful quote from Lewis “The hardness of God is kinder than the softness of men, and His compulsion is our liberation.” - Amen.

I’m pretty much convinced we have to take the looooong view of this verse. Martyrs, for instance? How does that work for their good in this life? Short of that, though, tragedies happen and God does not prevent them (though there is no doubt much going on behind the scenes, that will surprise us one Day :-)) - but promises to make them work together for our eventual good. Small comfort at the time, though.
Other than that, I think what Paul said is true now but not particularly satisfying - but will be true and satisfying for all at some point.
What he’s not saying, of course, is that if we love God, nothing bad will happen to us. Now THAT would be a promise that would fill our

John, that’s a good and challenging question. I’m not sure how to read it. But I’ve assumed that the logic is that when we love God, he can produce what is most deeply good in this life even out of bad things, such as our spiritual growth, or even our deliverance from this life.

But of course, that if we don’t trust in God, we’re not apt to respond to awful things in the way that they then bear spiritual fruit. That wouldn’t preclude, that in long term, God will work for a good outcome, even to those who reap spiritually bad results by their response to wicked trials in the present.

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As a pantelist I take a different tack that doesn’t assume a non-contextual setting in order to suggest a universal application.

I think it is reasonable to ask relative to… “those who are called— called to WHAT?

Might I suggest that being… “called according to His purpose” is indicative of being called into His service. This text has nothing to do with being called to post-mortem destinations and all that is argued around that; and thus such universalist / infernalist positions.

Paul’s words were relative and specific to his age… to those along with him who were called to go out to the highways and byways to urge, compel and implore in the gospel their compatriots to come out of their corrupt and perverse generation and be saved from the coming onslaught their Saviour prophesied about.

Thus the way to war was broad BUT the way to peace, i.e., to keep one’s head, more narrow. They were to give to the enemy (Roman soldiers) not only their cloak if demanded, but also go the second mile giving their shirt as well if needs be… etc, etc.

So… how WE might read OURSELVES into that text and thus make certain applications to US is IMO totally a second order issue.

So John, I’m sure we’re all interested to get your take on the text you’ve raised?

Yes you are right I outsmarted myself, obviously “good” applies beyond this age into the next age or ages and I think all are called not a select few.

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Yes quite in the contrariety, there are some who do not believe the signature view of Romans, and you can very well see the alternative view in the post:

The oldest existing Greek manuscript that contains Romans 8:28 is Papyrus 46. This manuscript is dated as having been copied around A.D. 150. It clearly states, not that “All things work together for good,” but that “God works everything together for good.” The New American Standard Bible takes this into account.

And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. (Romans 8:28 NASB)

However, taken in isolation, the statement is clearly false. For there are many tragedies that take place in the lives of some of those who have been called and who love God—events that God doesn’t work together for their good at all. But the “all things” do not refer to all events in the lives of those God calls, but the things which God is working in their lives.

But let’s look at the context:

28 And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.
29 For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the first-born among many brethren;
30 and whom He predestined, these He also called; and whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified. (NASB)

That little word “For” at the beginning of verse 29 connects it and verse 30 to verse 28.

There is a sequence in God’s work in them whom He has called and who love Him.

  1. In those individuals in whom God intends to work, God is said to “foreknow” them. This is just another way of saying that God intends to work in them.

  2. God also pre-appointed them to be conformed to the image of His Son. “Pre-appointed” is a better translation than “predestined” since the latter word suggests to people in our day, that this conformation to the Son’s image is inevitable.

  3. Those whom He pre-appointed, these He also called.

  4. Those whom He called, these He also made righteous. “Justified” is technically correct, but our concept of “justified” is different from the intent here. Being made righteous is a life-long process, which will be completed at Christ’s return.
    …he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. (Philippians 1:6 ESV)
    Why then is the word for “made righteous” in the Aorist tense? (this is a past tense). Because this whole sequence of events within the called ones is related from beginning to end. This becomes clear in the next one.

  5. Those whom He made righteous, these He also glorified. Clearly, no one is yet glorified. But they will be when the process is completed at Christ’s return.
    He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.

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Thanks to everyone for your contributions - much appreciated.
I said that I’d be happy to share my thoughts but wondered if someone would produce a different angle.
My thoughts have been echoed very eloquently by Bob so I’m glad I’m not alone in thinking similar thoughts:

I cannot think of a better way of squaring it with apokatastasis.
I heard it said that ‘suffering is God’s gymnasium’, likewise ‘suffering never leaves you where it finds you’. I think this second quote is useful. Perhaps, if we are close to God, then He is able to use the bad experiences to change us for the better but if we are distant from God then the hardship is wasted.

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The problem is that there is no place for those that never know of the Hebrew God… Maybe, we can say that God inherently instituted DNA into creation that will somehow make them strive to be better, to search and grope for a better life and understanding of why they are here? Obviously there are remarkable stories of ‘heathen unbelievers’ coming to faith, but as we all see, faith is a moving target. So to be honest, horribly things happen, and yes, faith in a God can be comforting, but human resilience can also go a long way to turning a bad situation around.

Yes suffering does build spiritual muscles, but things like senseless evil is unexplainable unless you believe justice can be found in the afterlife.

Maybe justice is not what we think it is at all, maybe senseless evil is merely part of the plan, in other words like lions kill whatever they come across to have food, they are what they where meant to be. We are very much like that. But, (big but) we evolve at a different rate and way that the rest of creation doesn’t do. People are special in that respect I believe.