We often are puzzled, trying to understand our experiences. In todays’ second reading, Romans 8:28-30), St. Paul assures us, “All things work together for good for those who love God” (Rom 8:28).
In fact, however, difficulties, even serious ones, are often part of our lives. St. Augustine acknowledges that these difficulties are real but still insists: “God is so good that He would permit no evil, unless He were powerful enough to draw some good out of any evil” (Enchiridion).
If God’s care is present in all creation, it is most especially in the lives of “those who love God,” as St. Thomas Aquinas explains, “Whatever happens to them, it all accrues to their benefit … He takes care of them in such a way as to permit no evil to affect them without converting it to their good” (St. Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on the Letter of Paul to the Romans, 697).
This doesn’t mean that good people will not have sufferings but, through God’s power, the sufferings can become blessings, as the First Letter of Peter declares: “If you suffer for justice’s sake, you will be blessed” (1 Pet 3:14).
Thomas raises the question whether our sins, our deliberate ways of turning from God, can work for our good?
Thomas finds an answer in Psalm 37:24, “Though he fall, he will not be cast down for the Lord holds him by the hand.”
Thomas reasons: “The righteous always arise with greater love because man’s good consists in love in such a way that without it the Apostle says that he is nothing (1 Cor. 13:2)” (Commentary on Romans, 698).
Perseverance in love is essential, according to Thomas: “Our good consists not only in the amount of love but especially in our perseverance until death: ‘He who endures to the end will be saved’ (Mt 24:13)” (Commentary on Romans, 698).
Thomas thinks: “Because a person has fallen, he rises more cautious and more humble … this makes them progress … for they fear extolling themselves or trusting in their powers to persevere” (Commentary on Romans, 698).
Paul speaks of “those who love God” (Rom 8:28). Thomas points out that we love because of the Holy Spirit: “The love of God is in us through the indwelling Spirit. It is the Holy Spirit who directs us in the right path” (Commentary on Romans, 699).
Because God loves us, He wills good for us: “To love is to will good to the beloved; but for God to will is to accomplish, ‘For whatever the Lord wills, He does’ (Ps 135:6). Therefore God turns all things to the good of those who love Him” (Commentary on Romans, 799).
Paul speaks of those “who are called according to His purpose” (Rom 8:28) and “Those He foreknew He also predestined …” (Rom 8:29). What is God’s purpose? Thomas refers to Augustine’s explanation that God’s purpose is His “resolve to be merciful,” “according to the purpose of Him who accomplishes all things according to the counsel of His will” (Eph 1:11).
Thomas asserts: “No one can harm those whom God advances; but God advances the predestined who love Him. Therefore, nothing can harm them, but everything works for their good” (Commentary on Romans, 701).
We do not earn God’s gifts of grace to us, as Thomas explains: “To claim that some merit on our part ... is the reason for the predestination is nothing less than to claim that grace is given because of our merits and that the source of our good works is from us and their consummation from God” (Commentary on Romans, 703). If our good efforts catch God’s attention then we would earn God’s gifts. In fact, God gives us His love and grace freely.
Paul declares: “Those He predestined to be made conformed to the image of His Son” (Rom 8:29). Thomas says “This conformity is not the reason for the predestination but its end effect” (Commentary on Romans, 703). In other words, we don’t conform ourselves to the Son of God but God conforms us to His Son as a gift.
The Letter to the Ephesians states: “He destined us to be His adopted sons through Jesus Christ” (Eph 1:5). Thomas explains: “The adoption as sons is nothing more than that conformity because a person adopted into the sonship of God is conformed to His true Son” (Commentary on Romans, 704).
God gives His holy ones wisdom and grace, which conform us to the Son: “By enlightening the saints with the light of wisdom and grace, He makes them be conformed to Himself” (Commentary on Romans, 704).
The Son is the “image” of the Father: “He is the image of the invisible God” (Col 1:15). Thomas observes: “He predestined us to be conformed to His Son in the fact that we bear His image: ‘just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven’ (1 Cor 15:49)” (Commentary on Romans, 705).
In creation, God communicated His own goodness and the Son also communicates His sonship, as Thomas reflects:
“Just as God willed to communicate His natural goodness to others by imparting to them a likeness of His goodness, so that He is not only good but the author of good things, so the Son of God willed to communicate to others conformity to His sonship, so that He would not only be the Son but also the firstborn among sons. Thus, He who is the only-begotten through an eternal origin, ‘the only Son who is at the bosom of the Father’ (Jn 1:18), is the firstborn among many brethren by the bestowal of grace: ‘He is the first-born of the dead and ruler of the kings on earth’ (Rev 1:5) (Commentary on Romans, 706).
Thomas points out that Christ is our brother in two senses: “Christ has us as brothers both because He communicated to us a likeness of His sonship and because He assumed the likeness of our nature, ‘He had to become like His brothers in every way’ (Heb 2:17)” (Commentary on Romans, 706).
St. Paul asserts: “And those He predestined He also called” (Rom 8:30). How does God call us? St. Thomas tells us that God “calls” us in two ways:
“This call is twofold: one is external and is made by the mouth of the preacher… In this way God called Peter and Andrew (Mt 4:18). The other call is internal and is nothing less than an impulse of the mind whereby a man’s heart is moved by God to assent to the things of faith or of virtue” (Commentary on Romans, 707).
This passage is important because it draws out the two ways that God communicates with us. One is through the Word of God and preaching, in whatever form it takes, and the other is God’s interior movement within us. Thomas calls our attention to the importance of God’s movement within us:
“This call is necessary because our heart would not turn itself to God unless God Himself drew us to Him: ‘No one can come to me unless the Father who sent Me draws Him’ (Jn 6:44); ‘Turn us to Yourself, O Lord, that we may be turned’ (Lam 5:1)” (Commentary on Romans, 707).
Thomas believes that God’s interior movement is effective: “This call is efficacious.. because they assent to the call : ‘Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to Me” (Jn 6:45)” (Commentary on Romans, 707).
Paul declares: “… those whom He called, He also justified” (Rom 8:30). How does God “justify” us? Thomas offers a simple answer: “… by infusing grace: ‘they are justified by His grace as a gift’ (Rom 3:24).” (Commentary on Romans, 708).
Paul affirms “those He justifies, He also glorified” (Rom 8:30). Thomas explains that God glorifies us in two ways, “by growth in virtue and grace and by exaltation to glory” (Commentary on Romans, 709).
We don’t always realize that all things are working for good and yet, if we look back, on our lives, we can recognize God’s hand working in mysterious ways.
Denis Vincent Wiseman, O.P.,
References to St. Thomas Aquinas’ Commentary on Romans are taken from the translation begun by Fr. Fabian R. Larcher, O.P. and edited by J. Mortensen and E. Alarcón. The translation was published by the Aquinas Institute for the Study of Sacred Doctrine, Lander, Wyoming, in 2012, pp. 231-236.