January 30, 2023
“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those 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 brothers.”
Thirty-six years ago, I stood looking out a hospital window wondering if I could believe Romans 8:28. Debbie and I had been married just over a year and she was delivering our firstborn, who we had been calling Peanut. Deb was a nurse, and we had planned an out-of-hospital delivery with professional midwives in Bethesda, MD. Peanut, however, was big, and two weeks past the due date, and the midwives could not induce. So, off we went to Georgetown Hospital for induction with an obstetrician we’d never met.
Shortly into labor, Peanut’s heart rate sank, and a few extra nurses entered the room to help Deb change position, which worked. But an hour later, his heart rate sank again and didn’t come up. Bells and whistles went off and several people scrambled into the room. They started disconnecting things and hustling her out for an emergency c-section. As the last nurse left the room, she said, “Say goodbye to your wife.” I thought that was an odd way to phrase it.
I stood alone, looking out the window, and that passage came to me: “For those who love God, all things work together for good.” I didn’t know what was wrong with the delivery, or what was wrong with my first child, or even whether my wife was in jeopardy. Not knowing much about medicine, I wondered: could I trust God in this? More importantly, did I have the faith to believe that whatever the outcome, it was part of the “all things” that “work together for good?”
I was surprised. Somehow, I did believe that. How was it possible that I was at peace in that moment? Our God is truly a gracious Father, and his Spirit does work in hearts and minds. I was able to trust – confidently – the first part of Westminster Confession 3:1: “God, from all eternity, did, by the most wise and holy counsel of his own will, freely, and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass …”
A few minutes later, I heard a baby crying in the hallway. I went out and saw one of our nurses pushing a bassinet and I asked, “Is that my son, and is my wife okay?” She said yes and yes, and I bent down and said to young Christopher: “It’s me Peanut; it’s your dad.” He instantly stopped crying and opened his eyes. What a gift from our heavenly Father.
My faith was only tested for a moment in that room. I don’t know how I would’ve reacted if the nurse’s news had been different. I hope it would’ve been the same, but I don’t know.
My last 40 years in the PCA have tested my confidence in Romans 8:28. Has God foreordained the disagreements and the challenges? Do all these things really work together for good? Even the instances of strife and all the complaints and appeals? Are they really conforming us to the image of his Son? Indeed, they do, and they are.*
*The best book I’ve ever read on suffering and affliction is Jerry Sittser’s, A Grace Disguised: How the Soul Grows Through Loss (1998; rev. 2021). It’s a masterpiece for the head and the heart.
Howie Donahoe is a retired airline pilot. He’s been in the PCA for 40 years, and a ruling elder for 36 years, currently at Boise Presbyterian Church. He and Debbie have five married children (and one in heaven) and nine grandchildren (one also in heaven). He’s been a member of the SJC for 22 years and was Moderator of the 47th GA in Dallas in 2019.