There are so many things to say about these verses that one might be tempted to abandon hope of doing them justice; will you dare to breaststroke across the Pacific? But one must try! One might also be tempted to fear the possible reactions of those who want the engine of hope to work another way. But one must step on those toes with love.
Should we use theological labels as we work through the paragraphs? Don't these doctrinal nicknames often cause offense? What's more, don't they often become divisive, partisan, and like trampolines for preachers to jump up and down in front of their base, whoop them into frenzy about how ridiculous anyone who thinks something else might be? Yet, why be shy about what the inspired words say or how they've been summarized by other believers? And why not take advantage of certain categories for our own understanding of the world, for passing on the truth to our kids, as well as for giving context to our experiences, and to increase hope in our *sufferings*?
Romans 8:26-30 are follow up to the issue of suffering. We will be glorified with Christ "provided we suffer with him" (Romans 8:17). The glory is so glorious that "the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing" (Romans 8:18). That said, a Christian in long-suffering, deep suffering, dark suffering, may ask, "Really?" Even the creation groans in its current condition. We likewise "grown inwardly as we wait eagerly" (Romans 8:23). It really requires *hope*, which isn't hope unless it’s banking on something which isn't currently seen.
Two unseen, but knowable, dependable, bankable, realities fuel our hope. First, God's Spirit prays for us when we don't know what to pray. Second, God's sovereignty fulfills all His purposes whether we see it in real time or not.
Pastorally I think it's silly to not use some theological shorthand, and also, it doesn't bother me whatever you call it. But pastorally I am telling you that if you don't submit to the fullness of God's sovereignty then you can't have the comfort. These truths are not crutches, they are the bones of your hope. When I say you can't have the comfort, I don't mean that you don't deserve it, I mean that you logically lock yourself out of it. To be consistent with some emotions (the wannabe independent, self-willed sort) is to make other emotions (comfort and peace) impossible.
Pastorally I also think that these truths can be used inconsistently. Solomon said that the one who sings songs to a troubled heart is like one who takes a garment away on a cold day or who pours vinegar on soda, like a volcano (Proverbs 25:20). It is possible to ignore someone's suffering with theology and feel virtuous about it. But theology *explains*, it doesn't distance. And when we think about our approach to our own, or to a friend's suffering, we ought to be thinking about the glory God is working into them, not immediately about how wrong they are.
Also, it's valuable that Paul leaves "suffering" and "weakness" and "all things" as ambiguous and vague; they have more than one definition and not all the same extent. Is it as bad, hard, and painful for you as it was for Paul's original readers? Believers in previous generations, or in other parts of the world, or across the room? You don't have it as bad as somebody, and yet these truths are for everybody. It's okay if your trials aren't the worst, God is getting you warmed up.
# Suffering So Bad We Don't Know What to Pray (verses 26-27)
The suffering of this present age requires endurance as those who are saved in hope wait for the consummation of their salvation. But we have a hard go of it, even with hope. We're weak. God helps those who can't help themselves. The nature of His help is in prayer, and the value of that help is that His prayers are always according to God’s will.
**Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.**
**Weakness** doesn't mean sinfulness, though sin has made problems in the post-fall world, in our bodies of flesh. We are not strong to bear up under the things we can see, things which cause groaning. We are limited in capacity or even debilitated, fragile. We also cannot see everything, which means we're not even certain, sometimes, what to ask God for.
**The Spirit helps** (*coopitulatur* in Calvin’s Latin translation). Paul doesn't say that the Spirit fixes prayerlessness. The Spirit isn't a surrogate, He is a different kind of advocate. The Spirit **intercedes**, but we are faced toward God, just not sure of the words. **We do not know what to pray as we ought**.
The **too deep for words** or “groaning which cannot be uttered” (KJV) are not a new kind of language. This isn't a private prayer language; it’s not a language at all. Even if we wanted it to be the gift of tongues, the gift of tongues wasn't for *everyone*, but weakness and the Spirit's help is. Creation groans, and we **groan**, an involuntary expression of stress; maybe the modern version is “AAAAAA!” We’re searching for words, we don’t even know what we don’t know to ask.
**And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.**
The Heart-Searching One here is God, the Father, not the Son nor the Spirit. As the Son intercedes for His brothers (see Hebrews 7:25), so the Spirit intercedes for the saints. And His prayers always get through, meaning that they are never selfish (which is one reason we don’t receive what we ask for, James 4:3) or off by a click.
When your chest is tight and your mind is turning like an overfull cement truck and words escape you because it hurts, one reason not to give up hope is because the Spirit who lives in you is praying for you.
# Sovereignty So Good We Know His Purpose (verses 28-30)
We don't always know what to pray. We do know, always and for all things, that God's purpose for us - glorification - will be completed. This is better than merely drinking another six-pack of beer and dreaming everything will turn out all right.
## The Promise of His Purpose (verse 28)
**And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.**
Is there any other verse in God's Word more quoted to others when they are having a hard time? Is there another one that is harder to believe *in the moment*?
The **we** in the **we know** is only for those who in a certain category, described in two ways. It belongs only to 1) those who love God and 2) those who are called by God.
We are commanded to love God, this is the great/greatest commandment, and it is personal. Those who don't bother giving their hearts to God shouldn't concern themselves with whether God has given His attention to them.
The **called**, as becomes definitive in the next two verses, are the ones elected and drawn to God by God. It isn't just those who have heard the gospel, it is those whom the Spirit has given new life. How do you know if you're called? You love God. How did you come to love God? You were called.
There are a couple ways to understand the grammar of the main piece but the point is that *God* works together all things unto good. The **all things** is accusative, the direct object, and plural, whereas the verb is singular. The things are what receive the action, not the doing of the action. God weaves and works.
As for what are the **all things**, isn't the point to say the suffering things, the we-aren’t-sure-how-to-pray-for-them things, the *bad*, evil, depraved, sinful, unjust, malevolent, demonic, dirty, bent, traumatic, horrible, hurtful, unholy things? God causing good things to work toward good is true, and obvious. We can see that, it takes hope in God for what we can’t see.
This promise is *not* a justification to sin, any more than being justified by faith is a justification to sin. Those who love God shouldn't love Him by driving the car off the cliff and saying, "Oh, He'll fix it."
It is not simplistic, but it is simple. Joe Biden being our current president is for good, for sure, and it apparently wasn’t to make our neighbors wake up to vote better in the midterms. Your cancer may be for your good-er weeping with another, not for your recovery story on earth. The acute things, that can be named, that have a shorter duration, are worked by God for good. The undiagnosed, apparently unending or at least of uncertain ending, that ruin your plans and upend your life. The nagging and annoying and inconvenient, the systemic and global and generational, God is God of working **all things**.
Which also means I do not have to have experienced your portion of the all things in order to have some perspective on your portion of the all things. "You don't know what I'm going through." That's true, but not completely right. And I *do* know that God cares, He has ordained, He is at work. I also know the *end* of what you're going through: **good**. This is the *good* good, the ultimate good.
Of course neither you or I are at the center of God's plans. But both you and I are being taken through God's plans for you and I.
## The Progression of His Purpose (verses 29-30)
**For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.**
Whatever the exact nature of God's relationship to time is, the comfort in our sufferings does not come from the idea that God looked down through the corridors of time and saw that we would believe and then He responded by determining from that point that He would take care of us. Our hope is not in His response but in His purpose.
And **foreknew** only means pre-knowledge on the surface of the compound word. It’s not semantics to say that when God *knows* it’s more than accumulated data, it’s affection and familiarity. Foreknowledge is more than foresight. **Predestined** means He set the path toward the horizon for those He knows.
The subordinate goal is that we would be Christlike; **conformed**, συμμόρφους, made to match the mold. The goal up from that is that Christ would be glorified. The goal up from that, the end for which God created the world, is glory to God, Father, Son, and Spirit. That glory is the same one He is calling us into.
Beloved, God made the world and rules and knows how to get you to the good. That great good is in Christ, and this is for the preeminence of Christ.
**And those he predestined, he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.**
It’s not the complete *ordo salutis*, but it is covers the complete picture of our experience of salvation, calling to eternal glory. That Paul wrote **glorified** in the past tense presents the God’s purpose as so determined it might as well be done.
When we are weak, then we need God's sovereignty. We need *monergism*, Calvinism, the doctrines of grace.
When we talk about being blessed, about being jealousable, about living the sort of provocative lives that are a treasure of salvific riches for the world (Romans 11:11-12, 14), how we suffer, and watch God work non-linear, complex good and blessing in our pains, is part of it. Obviously blessed with success is one kind of glory, obviously blessed with and through suffering is another.
Those who love God have been foreloved by God (1 John 4:19), elected to salvation *and elected to specific sufferings* that we might learn obedience (Hebrews 5:8) and be made like the Son in His glory. In John Calvin’s words,
> “by the same celestial decree, the afflictions, which conform us to Christ, have been appointed; and he did this for the purpose of connecting, as by a kind of necessary chain, our salvation with the bearing of the cross.”
When it hurts, what can you do? You can pray. When you don’t know what to pray, remember the Spirit intercedes for you, and prays according to the purpose of God for your glory.
The charge is: having girded up the loins of your mind, and being fully sober, set your hope completely on the grace to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ (1 Peter 1:13).
Hope in God! You will praise Him again, and forever.
> But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.
> Therefore, my brothers, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm thus in the Lord, my beloved. (Philippians 3:20–4:1, ESV)