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Evil Into Good
Why does God allow suffering?
Theologians and philosophers have wrestled and debated over this question for thousands of years and we still don’t have a complete or satisfying answer.
This week in The Story, we’ll be reading and learning about the life of Joseph. And it’s in the life of Joseph that we get introduced to this idea of God turning evil into good.
I think it’s important to mention that suffering in and of itself is not good. Suffering isn’t a virtue, nor is it directly caused by God. However, as followers of Christ and throughout the Bible we see how God is able to transform our pain and trials into good.
1. Suffering is used by God to draw us to Jesus.
S. Lewis (who authored the Chronicles of Narnia and many other great books) had tasted pain in ways that few can relate to. He lost his mother at an early age, saw his dad emotionally abandon him, suffered from a respiratory illness as a teenager, was wounded as a solider in World War I, and buried his beloved wife when she was only 45 years old. He wrote:
“God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pain: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”
You see, suffering doesn’t allow you to be on the fence when it comes to following God.
During times of pain many people often turn their suffering into anger towards God.
“How could you let this happen?”
“Don’t you see the pain I’m in?”
“Where are you?”
“Do you even care?”
And many reject God because of the pain that they experience. But I’ve never seen this reaction ever actually help anyone through suffering.
On the other hand, we have seen many who have begun to think about God and turn to Him during a time of crisis…. After losing a loved one, a broken relationship, or some other pain.
I don’t pretend to understand why these things happen. But I do know that many of your lives have been transformed as you’ve put your hope and trust in Jesus though the darkest of storms.
The theologian R.T. Kendall writes, ‘For Joseph, vindication on the spot might have done something for him in that moment; but it wouldn’t have done anything for the kingdom of God. When we are mistreated in any way, we must realise that our suffering has profound and vast implications for the greater kingdom of God. There are unseen reasons for continued suffering. Who knows what God will do with your life if you take mistreatment with dignity?’
2. God can work through our suffering to make us more like Jesus.
The apostle Peter uses the image of a metal worker refining silver and gold. He knows that his readers are hurting and “have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials” – 1 Peter 1:6.
In the next verse he writes, “These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.”
David Watson was an Anglican priest and evangelist. He wrote about the power of God working through suffering:
There is no doubt that millions of Christians all down the centuries have become more Christ-like through suffering. I know of many who have an almost ethereal beauty about them, refined through pain. In fact, those who have experienced more of the love of God than anyone I have ever met have also endured more suffering. When you crush lavender, you find its full fragrance; when you squeeze an orange, you extract its sweet juice. In the same way, it is often through pains and hurts that we develop the fragrance and sweetness of Jesus in our lives.
3. God is always working in the upper story.
As we journey through The Story this year we see both a lower story and an upper story. And when we look at the lower story of Joseph through the lens of the upper story, things become more clear.
We see this played out in the life of Joseph. He was spoiled and hated by his brothers. They hated him so much that they sold him as a slave, and he was taken to Egypt.
I have three bothers. Sometimes we fought, but we never tried to sell or traffic each other.
In Egypt, he was unjustly imprisoned for a crime that he did not commit. For thirteen years he faced trials, temptations, and testing until at the age of thirty he was made ruler over Egypt and was put in a position to save the lives of not only his family, but also of all God’s people.
To the brothers that sold him as a slave he said, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.” – Gen. 50:20
Joseph is saying to the same brothers that hurt and mistreated him:
If I had not been sent to Egypt…
If I hadn’t become a slave…
If I hadn’t become a convict…
If I hadn’t been brought down here…
I would not have been able to rise up, become deputy to the Pharaoh, and save countless lives from starvation.
Joseph is saying that God was keeping him safe when he was sold into slavery. God was keeping him safe when he was falsely accused and put into a dungeon.
When faced with pain and suffering it’s natural to ask what the purpose of it all is. Paul tells us that we can be absolutely sure that God is working in our lives through it: “We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28).
This verse doesn’t say all things are good. It doesn’t say don’t worry about the bad things because every cloud has a silver lining. Many bad things that happen are simply bad.
But Joseph had faith and trusted God in his suffering. He had faith and hope in the one true God.
Philip Yancey is a prolific writer and addresses the issues of suffering and pain in many of his books. He writes, “faith means believing in advance what will only make sense in reverse.”
This is true for the life Joseph. He didn’t know that all the evil and pain that he was experiencing would turn around, but he had faith and chose to follow God anyway.
I love what Corrie Ten Boom (Holocaust and concentration camp survivor) says, “When a train goes through a tunnel and it gets dark, you don’t throw away the ticket and jump off. You sit still and trust the engineer.”
The same God that was with Joseph is with you. And God can take things that are meant for evil and turn them in to something beautiful. We know that in the upper story God is working all things together for good.
Where’s God When It Hurts? – Philip Yancey
Walking With God Through Pain and Suffering – Timothy Keller
The Problem of Pain – C.S. Lewis
The Hiding Place – Corrie Ten Boom
Why Does God Allow Suffering? -Nicky Gumbel