February 29, 2004
God Can Use Evil for Good
But Joseph said to them, "Don't be afraid. Am I in the place of God? You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. So then, don't be afraid. I will provide for you and your children." And he reassured them and spoke kindly to them.
During the Lenten season, my sermons will deal with the general theme, “I walk today where Jesus walked.” My inspiration for these sermons comes from a popular book now being read by millions of people. This book is “The Purpose-Driven Life” written by Rick Warren.
Mr. Warren writes, “Since God intends to make you like Jesus, he will take you through the same experiences Jesus went through. These include loneliness, temptation, stress, criticism, rejection, and many other problems. Why would God exempt us from what he allowed his own Son to experience?”
All of us have had some difficult moments. Therefore, we will first discuss our common problems, see how Jesus dealt with them in His life, and what help he has to offer us. Today, in this introduction of this sermon series, I would like to talk with you about the familiar statement: God can use evil for good.
An angry woman said, “If God is so good, why do such horrible things have to happen? I have just been to the funeral of a mother. She leaves behind her husband to raise two small children. Why, why, why? Answer that question, and I might show more interest in this loving God you and so many others talk about in a very pious way.”
There is a lot of anger in that statement, and the tragedy is that anger comes from an ignorance of who God is. People assume that, since God is God, he is responsible for everything that happens. That is a wrong assumption.
People also assume that we have the possibility of living in a world that is a utopia. That assumption is also wrong. Let us open-mindedly discuss the question –– if God is so good, why do such horrible things happen. Whether or not the answers satisfy you, they are found in the divinely inspired Word of God.
In Genesis chapter 1 we read these words: “Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, in our likeness.’” After all of the creation had all come into existence, then He created man –– the human being –– male and female. And He created them “in the image of God.” The human being was the crowning work of all creation. This does not mean that we have our body like God’s, for He does not have a body; He is a spirit. However, there are certain characteristics within the human being that are found in no other part of creation. Yet they are found in God. For example, the human being has a mind with which he can think; God has a mind. The human being has a will with which he can make a decision; God has a will. The human being has a spirit (or a soul); God is a spirit. In that sense of the word, we are created in the image of God. We are people who can think, we are responsible, and we do not cease to exist when our final breath is taken. We are a soul, not just a body. That soul is immortal.
Making reference back to the angry woman who questioned God’s goodness, who of us would not shed tears and grieve with that family. Still, the point is that the mother, though we feel she should be here, has a soul. That soul, resting in Jesus Christ, lives with Him forevermore. That is different from any other part of God’s creation. It is the crowning work of God’s creation.
Though we do not know why God created us this way, He gave us a will. That will is free to reject God. This is something we all do many times throughout the day. It is also why we see the terrible mess we live in, and have always lived in since the fall of the human being. We live in a fallen, sinful world. The human being can be, and often is, a spiritual rebel. God can have nothing to do with sin. The reason we have sin in this world is that the human being has ushered it in.
St. Paul put it so well: “Therefore, just sin has entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way, death has come to all men through sin . . .” He is simply telling us that our imperfections are caused by our rebellion against God. This should not be interpreted to mean that a person who dies at a young age is more sinful than a person who lives to an old age. It is simply saying that sin ushers in imperfection, and a part of the imperfection is death. Because we are a part of this world, we will all pass through it. That is what death is. Man’s rebellion against God is its cause.
God could have discarded us and forgotten all about us. Instead He chose to set up a plan of redemption by which he could take that sin, and the guilt of it, away from us. Then He could begin working on making us more Christlike. That is the heart of the Lenten message. God sent into this world His only begotten Son, Jesus Christ, who, upon the cross of Calvary, suffered and died for the sins of the world.
When Jesus died and was raised from the dead, full atonement was made. God had accepted it, and sin could be forgiven by grace through faith in Jesus Christ to those who believe in Him. That is the core of the Gospel. It is the message of the Church of Jesus Christ that is today, has been in the past, and will be until Jesus Christ returns. No one in the Church, no matter how high their rank, can ever erase the center of the Gospel upon which the Church of Jesus Christ is built.
Now, because God created the human being to be free, and man chose to walk away from him, we have a fallen world. God created us to have a free will. When we fall in sin, He will forgive us and work with us so that we want to live for the Lord Jesus. “He is the one who controls my life.”
It is the human being, then, who has brought sin into the world. That is the answer to the question of why we have this mess. Not because God did it or because He foreordained it, but because He gave man the right to say no and walk away from Him. The results are what we see and read about in the newspaper every day. It is sin that brings all of its imperfections and so much suffering as we experience its heartache on a daily basis.
Maybe Leslie Weatherhead, a professor at the University of London, can help us. He wrote a little book that I would highly recommend. It is still in print. It is entitled, “The Will of God.” In this book, Dr. Weatherhead says that there is an intentional will of God, a permissive will of God, and an ultimate will of God.
God’s intentional will when He created this world was that everything would be perfect. All would be exactly as He wanted it to be. If that were the case, there would be no sickness, no death, no crime.
However, since God created man with a free will, he allowed for a permissive will of God. If we want to go contrary to what God has taught us, He will permit it. It is within his permissive will.
The third part of that will is the ultimate will. When, in God’s time, this world is done, then, by grace through faith in Christ, He will gather those in the kingdom of Heaven where His ultimate will is to be done. That ultimate will will be exactly as the intentional will was for those who have come and been cleansed through the blood of Jesus Christ.
Time does not permit us to discuss the story of the Old Testament character Joseph in detail, but you will recall that Joseph was a favored son of Jacob. The others did not like Joseph very well. One day they decided to get even with him. So they sold him to some Ishmaelites, who were on their way to Egypt.
When the Ishmaelites got into Egypt, they found a man by the name of Potiphar, who bought Joseph to be his servant. Potiphar was a servant of King Pharaoh and lived in the royal court. One day Pharaoh had a horrible dream and could not understand it. So he brought asked Potiphar what to do. Potiphar brought in Joseph who was able to foretell the future in a dream.
Joseph told Pharaoh there would have an abundant crop for seven years, but then would come a famine. He recommended Pharaoh save much of the grain that would be harvested in those abundant years.
Pharaoh did exactly that and Egypt had much grain. They not only fed themselves, but also many people who lived in other countries. Among those who came from foreign countries were Joseph’s brothers. They did not know that Joseph had anything to do with the excess food. One day Joseph finally told them he was their brother. When the brothers discovered who Joseph was, what he had done to help Egypt and other countries, and what he could do to them, they wondered if they would die.
Joseph saw their fear, and thus spoke the words of our text: “Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God? You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.”
That is where that great old Biblical teaching comes: God can use evil for good. He does not send the evil, and He permits us to go contrary to his will when it comes. However, God will use the evil to bring us closer to Him.
When evil comes to us, no matter what it may be, it can either move us further away from God, or move us closer to him. What I have experienced is that when we are mad at God, we are not very happy people. We cannot live with that bitterness in our souls against God. For to whom, then, do we turn? God is telling us that He did not send it, but it is here, it has afflicted you, now come, let him use it. Let Him draw you closer.
The world is full of people who would not listen to God until they were finally brought to their knees not knowing where else to turn. God is not angry with them. He was right there to help them. He is interested in you.
This Lenten season, we are going to look at some of these afflictions under the general theme, “Today I Walk Where Jesus Once Walked,” see how we handle it, and if it will help us.
Rev. Homer Larsen