I Have Meant It For Good

When I put up this post, someone brought up a good question. Doesn’t a high view of God’s Providence make him the author of evil? I said “No–depending on what you mean by ‘author of evil.'” Let me explain.

Amos 3:6, “Shall a trumpet be blown in the city, and the people not be afraid? shall there be evil in a city, and the LORD hath not done it?” It’s a rhetorical question. The answer is “of course the Lord hath done it.” In some sense, whenever evil happens, God has not only allowed it to happen, he has done it. Nothing is outside of God’s control, not even sin and its consequences.

This issue is dealt with most directly in Romans, especially around chapter 9, where Paul points out the fact that God had already chosen who, between Jacob and Esau, he would bless and who he would curse. Not only that, he chose which of their hearts to harden, and which of them to redeem. If this is an issue you want to dive into real deeply, I suggest you read Romans. But for now, let’s take a look at one section, 9:18-24:

“Therefore hath he mercy on whom he will have mercy, and whom he will he hardeneth. Thou wilt say then unto me, Why doth he yet find fault? For who hath resisted his will? Nay but, O man, who art thou that repliest against God? Shall the thing formed say to him that formed it, Why hast thou made me thus?  Hath not the potter power over the clay, of the same lump to make one vessel unto honour, and another unto dishonour? What if God, willing to shew his wrath, and to make his power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath fitted to destruction: And that he might make known the riches of his glory on the vessels of mercy, which he had afore prepared unto glory, Even us, whom he hath called, not of the Jews only, but also of the Gentiles?”

When the Scriptures address this question, the immediate response is “Who are you to ask that question?” The relationship between God and man isn’t the relationship of one created thing to another, of one big clay pot to a bunch of small clay pots. He stands outside the world, as the creator, as the potter. He decides what kind of pot to make, and how to use it.

Another analogy is that of an author. When J. K. Rowling had Voldemort kill off Lily and James, did that make her a murderer? Of course not. God is telling a story, and it has bad guys and it has their victims, and it has good guys and those they rescue. As an author, he can write sin and pain and sorrow into this world without being a sinner.

Paul then goes on to point something else out. What if–and note that he does not feel obligated to give more than a hypothetical answer–what if God was patient and put up with sinners far longer than they deserved so that he could demonstrate his justice on the one hand, and his mercy on the other? After all, we are all sinners, all deserving of death. But God didn’t give us that. He let the human race keep on living and the globe keep on spinning. More than that, he chose to redeem that world, to transform it from the dark place it was to shining city that is yet to come. He chose to deliver people from the death they deserved. If he does that, for his glory, who are we to complain?

Having touched on Paul, let’s shoot back to the Old Testament for a minute and reference Joseph. Joseph thrown into a pit by his brothers, who considered killing him. Instead, they sold him into slavery, and he was hauled away to a foreign land. There he proved himself to be a very good slave, and was made the head over everything in his master’s house. Falsely accused of trying to lie with his master’s wife, he was thrown into prison. There he proved himself a good prisoner and was given more responsibility. He interpreted dreams to two men who promised to help him get out of there, but they forgot him.

Finally, though, one of them did tell Pharaoh about this man who could interpret dreams. Pharaoh called in Joseph, who interpreted his dreams. He said a huge famine was coming, but that it would be preceded by several years in which they could prepare. Joseph was made head over most all of Egypt and prepared for the famine. When it struck, his brothers came down to buy grain. Long story short, Joseph revealed himself and forgave them. In Genesis 50:20 he said, ” But as for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, in order to bring it about as it is this day, to save many people alive.” And indeed, all of Egypt and Joseph’s family were saved.

So all of Joseph’s suffering, besides making a good underdog story and a lesson about God’s faithfulness to those who love him, ended up working out for good. And Joseph says that “God meant it for good.” This tells us two things: first, that God meant the brothers to commit this heinous act, and second, that God meant it for good. So God meant for sinners to sin, for a righteous man to suffer. But, he meant it for good.

Honestly, I don’t think it’s hard to answer this question from the Bible. What’s hard is what lies behind the question: trust. We have a choice between a world of pain and suffering with a benevolent higher power we can understand, or that same world where that higher power can not only help us out, but is in control of that pain and suffering. And that is hard to understand.

Trusting God with absolute control means trusting him with everything we hate about life, everything that makes it hard. In the midst of the struggle, it’s hard to see why God would put us through all this. It’s a lot harder to trust him with that kind of power than to trust him with general good will and the possibility that he can get us out of this bad situation when it’s all over. But that’s not the Bible’s solution. The Bible looks the problem of evil in the face and tackles it head on. And it’s answer is “Who art thou?” and “I have meant it for good.” And these are the best answers man can get.

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3 thoughts on “I Have Meant It For Good

  1. I hate to start any comment on a harsh note, but your sentence ” In some sense, whenever evil happens, God has not only allowed it to happen, he has done it.” is blatant heresy (and I don’t use that word lightly). If you say in any sense that God is the (or one of the) origin(s) of sin, you have fallen into a very grave error. It is certainly true that Reformed thinking naturally lends itself to this logical end, but even staunch Reformed thinkers have shied away from directly saying something like this. While your honesty in the vein is refreshing, you should probably think long and hard about the actual implications of such a phrase.

    Moving on, your Romans 9 reference takes Paul’s argument out of context. Paul is quoting Malachi 1:2-3, which refers to Esau and Jacob, not in some kind of particular individual salvation, but to the nations of Esau and Jacob. It is similar with potter analogy. Paul is citing Jeremiah 18, which talks about the clay spoiling itself in the Potter’s hands, at which point the Potter simply changes what he was making. What’s more, it is clear from Jeremiah that the vessel in question is the nation of Israel, not individual Jews; this syncs up nicely with the prior comment about the nations of Esau and Jacob.

    The author analogy remains the most revealing, however. In a work of literature, the characters have no minds or wills of their own. They are simply puppets, artificial constructs without any ability to make decisions without the author forcing them. If an author decides for a character to participate in a graphic rape scene, the blame lies on the author for his choice to indulge in such a debauched act, not the character (who is simply doing what the author designed the character to do). Is the author a rapist? No, but the author is still at fault, because it was ultimately his choice to include something so tasteless in his work. Is God such an author? Certainly not, just as we are not such objects, but instead creatures gifted with the ability to choose, free from any kind of mind control from God to force us into one direction or another.

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  2. I would have to agree with the above comment. God has created a universe based off of the possibility of love. If we are mere puppets under the control of God then this possibility does not exist. Love requires choice. If God wants people to love Him – not just act lovingly toward Him – He must create people with the capacity to reject Him. We know that not everyone responds to God’s grace in a positive manner but we also know that God desires all people to be saved (1 Timothy 2:4). Now, we know from experience that not everyone will accept God’s grace even though it is His will for them to do so. With that said, I agree with the above comment that the Romans 9 reference is out of context. I will also argue that the Amos reference is taken out of context for it was not referring to a moral evil as some claim but God’s righteous judgement of Israel and Judah.

    I would also disagree with your interpretation of Genesis 50:20 but I acknowledge the fact that you have a much better argument for this verse than you do for the Amos or Romans passages. I do not believe this passage means that God ordains the evil in order to bring about the greater good. I believe that in God’s omniscience, He knew the hearts of Joseph’s brothers and based off of their hearts He devised a wise plan to bring about the greater good.

    I am not questioning this theology because I am skeptical about God’s sovereignty. I am questioning this because I feel that it contradicts Scripture as a whole. “This is the message we have heard from Him and announce to you, that God is Light, and in Him there is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:5). Logically, if God is in complete control of all creation then He does ordain sin and He is the author of evil. I do not see this ideology represented in Scripture. My concern with this view is not about human “free will” but of the very nature of God that is presented in the Bible.

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  3. This is excellent, David, especially in conjunction with the first post. We don’t pray to God because He is not in control. We pray to Him because He is, and we trust Him.

    Also, this quote -> “Honestly, I don’t think it’s hard to answer this question from the Bible. What’s hard is what lies behind the question: trust.” sha-BAM! This is exactly what ails apostate Christians, atheists (frequently the same people), and all others who make a point of hating God.

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