When the apostle Paul writes in his letter to the Romans, “We know that for those who love God all things work together for good” (v. 8:28), does he literally mean all things, or is the “all” limited in some way? To clarify his meaning, the apostles writes a few verses later, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or sword? … No, in all these we are more than conquerors through him who loved us (vv. 8:35, 37). In this, the apostle intimates that all things, no matter how terrible they seem to us in this age, work together for the good of God’s saints.
What is interesting about the apostle’s clarification is that he does not say, “What shall separate us from the love of Christ,” but he says, “Who shall separate us,” indicating that the tribulation, distress, persecution, famine, nakedness, and sword are not things that Christians will endure, but persons. And the language that the apostle uses is not arbitrary, but he is referencing what he had written elsewhere. Earlier in the epistle, the apostle writes, “For those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury; there will be tribulation and distress for every human being who does evil, the Jew first and also the Greek” (vv. 2:8,9). Taking this tribulation and distress defined by Paul earlier in the letter and applying it to those whom Christians must endure, is then the apostle saying that these who incur tribulation and distress from God, namely the unrighteous, are not only unable to separate us from the love of Christ but are also in some way working to the good of the saints? In other words, is Paul saying that the damned in their damnation are working to the good of those who love God?