“Brothers and Sisters: We know that in everything God works for good with those who love him, who are called according to his purpose. 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 brethren. And those whom he predestined he also called; and those whom he called he also justified; and those whom he justified he also glorified.” (Romans 8: 28-30)
Trusting God has always been a challenge for me. I’ve never struggled necessarily to believe in His existence, or even theoretically in His goodness. Practically, however, I have found it difficult to trust that His goodness could actually correspond in any significant way with something that I actually wanted or, indeed, perceived as good.
As it turns out, I am not alone in this. According to the Catechism, this deep distrust in the goodness of God is the root of all of our sin—both original as well as the individual acts of disobedience that have followed in its wake:
Man, tempted by the devil, let his trust in his Creator die in his heart and, abusing his freedom, disobeyed God’s command. This is what man’s first sin consisted of. All subsequent sin would be disobedience toward God and lack of trust in his goodness. (CCC 379)
As I look back on my life, the truth of this assessment resounds almost forcefully. Every sin—both major and minor—that I can recall has been deeply rooted not so much in a willful desire to disobey or rebel (even when I was intentionally rebelling) but in a profound fear of God and His will for my life.
Perhaps you can relate. Think back on some of the decisions you’ve made in your life that you know have been wrong or hurtful, whether for you or others. What motives drove those decisions? Was it the desire to obtain a perceived good that you thought might otherwise be denied? Or was it was the desire to avoid pain or suffering that you feared would result in making certain choices you knew to be right?
Or maybe it was a little bit of both?
Often for me the two are inextricably connected, the one feeding off the other. The catechism tells us that this fear and distrust of God is not only the cause of our sin, but also its consequence (CCC 399). It is part of a vicious cycle in which the more we fear God and his goodness and act upon this fear, the more distorted our image of Him becomes and the more that fear deepens leading to greater alienation from God. Without fail those who fear the Lord the most are not those who have truly entrusted themselves to Him and have found themselves disappointed; they are those who, in fearing him, have refused to surrender their lives wholly to Him and so have never been able to experience the fullness of his grace and love.
I know because I have been in the latter group for the vast majority of my life. The turning point came, however when I read the story of Polycarp. There I was in the comfort of my own flat overlooking the University Parks of Oxford University studying in my dream program, yet strangely terrified of the God’s will for my life and yet reading about a man who, in face of certain, torturous death was able to say to his persecutors essentially, “Eighty-six years I have served Him and He has not failed me yet; I will not fail Him now” (loosely quoted).
It is precisely this same freedom of hope that we see Paul talking about here: the confidence that God’s love truly is unfailing and no matter where we find ourselves, what is going on in our lives or where we feel He might be calling us, we can trust that God is working and will use that situation for our good.
For many this may come across as either too good to be true or some sort of cheap consolation. One of the last things any of us wants to hear in the midst of suffering is that somehow God will bring good out of that situation. But Paul is talking about far more than some sort of spiritual “making lemonade out of lemons.” This passage speaks to us about the restoration of a grace that we have lost by our sin, the grace of original holiness. God created us in freedom not so that we might rebel against him, but so that we might partake in his divine life and share in his glory (CCC 398). This is the great and unfathomable good for which we have been created; this is the great and unfathomable good from which we cut ourselves off by our sin.
And it is the great and unfathomable good towards which God is able to work all things—our mistakes, our successes, our grief and our joy—for those who love Him. This original holiness and destiny of sharing in the incomparable glory of God that we have lost by our own distrust and repeated rebellion is able to be restored, not because our goodness but because of His grace. It is He who has predestined us to be conformed to the image of his Son, He who has called us. “And those whom he called he also justified; and those whom he justified he also glorified” (vv. 29-30)
And He has done this all at an unfathomable price, the life of his own Son.
How, then, do we proceed? How might we be conformed to the image of His Son? By the very faith and hope in His goodness that we have denied Him in our sin. It is obedience borne of hope that deepens our reconciliation to Him, thus restoring our distorted image of Him and allowing us to grow in the very holiness for which we were made in His image.
Kathleen Durham is a Vice President of Alighieri Press and serves as an author, editor and speaker.