"And we know that all things work together for good"
For good! Such a cheery, uplifting verse. We quote it when we're discouraged. We especially quote it to others when they're discouraged.
But is that the full verse? Is that the full story? Is it a glib "everything comes out right in the end" promise?
It does come out right in the end. I've read the back of the Book. It comes out okay, but that's not the full story, and even that fragment of the verse contains more meaning than we give it credit for. Take, for example, "all things." What are these things? Surely they're the events in our lives, the things that happen that shape and mold us. These "things," though they may work together for "good" in the end, are not necessarily good in and of themselves. They may be hard, horrible, and painful.
Then, of course, there's the rest of the verse: "And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose." I remember seeing the fragment of this verse on a plaque on someone's desk once. He was, by most accounts, a rascally person. I didn't know him well enough to know if he claimed Christ, but his life didn't proclaim Him. This promise isn't for just anyone. It's only for those who have started on the Pilgrim Road with the Savior. And, it says, who are called for His purpose, not for our own.
Plus, Paul didn't write in verses. He wrote letters. He didn't know we'd be memorizing little sections of his writings and forgetting the other parts. What does he say is God's purpose in calling us? "To be conformed to the image of His Son." (v. 29) The Son didn't walk an easy road. He was a "man of sorrows and acquainted with grief." (Is. 53:3)
In this very same chapter, Romans 8, Paul, also a man acquainted with grief, wrote, "For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us." And that's the full promise. Suffering may come (though some may be granted an easier road), but the glory overshadows it all in the end. So while we do believe in the "good" that's promised, we also understand that all of the "things" in between might be very hard.
CS Lewis said it so well, "We are not necessarily doubting that God will do the best for us; we are wondering how painful the best will turn out to be."