When God Uses Evil Actions for His Good

And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose (Rom. 8:28).

    All Things for GoodWhen I read this verse I’m reminded of Joseph, the son of Jacob, who at a young age was sold into captivity by his brothers who hated him (Gen. 37). Joseph was carried to Egypt by slave-traders where he was sold to a man named Potiphar. After a short time, Potiphar’s wife also treated Joseph unjustly and lied about him, which resulted in his incarceration for several years (Gen. 39). But the Lord was with Joseph and orchestrated his release from prison and promotion to the right hand of Pharaoh (Gen. 40-41). God then blessed Egypt with seven years of agricultural prosperity before sending seven years of famine upon the land. These events set the stage for God to move Joseph’s brothers geographically into Egypt and to bring them directly to the feet of Joseph (Gen. 42-45). Once there, Joseph’s brothers were afraid of him, fearing he would retaliate for the evil that was done to him. But Joseph interpreted the events of life—including the evil actions of his brothers—from the divine perspective, and this gave him the spiritual capacity to respond to his brothers with love rather than hate, with grace rather than revenge. Joseph told his brothers, “Now do not be grieved or angry with yourselves, because you sold me here, for God sent me before you to preserve life. For the famine has been in the land these two years, and there are still five years in which there will be neither plowing nor harvesting. God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant in the earth, and to keep you alive by a great deliverance” (Gen. 45:5-7). And later he said, “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive” (Gen. 50:20). Joseph operated from the divine perspective, whereas his brothers operated merely from their human viewpoint. From the divine perspective, Joseph realized God had orchestrated all the events of his life for a specific purpose and had incorporated the evil actions of his brothers to help develop his character and to strengthen his faith. Joseph’s divine perspective and strong faith enabled him to stand in God’s will and to show love and grace to those who sought his harm.

     Through Scripture, God gives His people the capacity to see all of life from His vantage point. Having God’s perspective allows us to rise above the daily grind of life and the petty actions of others and realize there is a sovereign God who rules over His creation and directs the activities of mankind—even evil activities—for His own good and the good of His people. For this reason, we can understand Paul’s words and know “that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose” (Rom. 8:28). Let’s face the day with God in mind and let faith rise above our circumstances and feelings.

Dr. Steven R. Cook

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The Providence of God

     God’s providence refers to His wise and personal acts, whereby He creates and controls circumstances in order to direct history according to His predetermined plan, all for His glory and the benefit of His elect.  People live in the flow of history, and are moved by the circumstances God controls.  The Lord “does according to His will in the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of earth; and no one can ward off His hand or say to Him, ‘What have You done?’” (Dan 4:35).  God is good and “works all things after the counsel of His will” (Eph. 1:11; cf. Ps. 103:19; 135:6; Dan. 4:35), and “causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose” (Rom 8:28).  By His sovereign will God created all things in heaven and earth, and sustains and directs them as He desires.  God “is before all things, and in Him all things hold together” (Col. 1:17).  The Lord knows all things at all times.  He knows when a sparrow falls to the ground (Matt. 10:29), and the ever-changing number of hairs on our head (Matt. 10:30).  He knows our thoughts before we think them (Ps. 139:2), and our words before we speak them (Ps. 139:4).  He knows our wickedness (Jer. 17:9; Mark 7:21-22), and chooses to love us by grace, in spite of our sinfulness (Matt. 5:45; Rom. 5:6-10; Eph. 2:1-9).  Some He elects to purpose, even from the womb (Jer. 1:5; Gal. 1:15).  Because God is righteous, all His actions are just.  Because He is loving and good, He directs all things for the benefit of His elect.  The wicked are also under God’s sovereign control, and He uses them for His own ends (Prov. 16:4).  “To be sure, evil has entered the universe, but it is not allowed to thwart God’s original, benevolent, wise, and holy purpose.”[1]

Providence is normally defined in Christian theology as the unceasing activity of the Creator whereby, in overflowing bounty and goodwill (Ps. 145:9 cf. Mt. 5:45–48), he upholds his creatures in ordered existence (Acts 17:28; Col. 1:17; Heb. 1:3), guides and governs all events, circumstances and free acts of angels and men (cf. Ps. 107; Jb. 1:12; 2:6; Gn. 45:5–8), and directs everything to its appointed goal, for his own glory (cf. Eph. 1:9–12). This view of God’s relation to the world must be distinguished from: (a) pantheism, which absorbs the world into God; (b) deism, which cuts it off from him; (c) dualism, which divides control of it between God and another power; (d)indeterminism, which holds that it is under no control at all; (e) determinism, which posits a control of a kind that destroys man’s moral responsibility; (f) the doctrine of chance, which denies the controlling power to be rational; and (g) the doctrine of fate, which denies it to be benevolent.[2]

     God’s providence is seen throughout the Bible.  God brought Joseph to Egypt, by the evil actions of his brothers (Gen. 37:23-28), and later used Joseph to deliver the very ones who betrayed him (Gen. 45:5-8; 47:11, 27-28; 50:20).  This was done to fulfill a promise given to Abraham (Gen. 15:13; 47:11, 27-28).  It was God’s providence that drove Saul to chase after his father’s donkeys, and then be led to the prophet Samuel and anointed king of Israel (1 Sam. 9-10).  It was God’s providence that directed Joseph and Mary to Bethlehem, so the baby Jesus would be born at the appointed time and place (Mic. 5:2; Luke 2:4-6; Gal. 4:4).  Later, Joseph and Mary were compelled to go to Egypt, in order to preserve the baby Savior (Matt. 2:13-15).  It was God’s providence that forced Aquila and Priscilla out of Rome by the emperor Claudius’ decree, only to meet the apostle Paul in Corinth and join him in Christian ministry (Acts 18:1-3; Rom. 16:3; 1 Cor. 16:19).  It was God’s providence that put the Lord Jesus on the cross to be crucified by the hands of godless men (Acts 2:23; 4:27-28).  Jesus died a substitutionary death, even for those who crucified Him (Rom. 3:25; 1 Cor. 15:3-4; 1 John 2:2; 4:10).

     God’s sovereignty, expressed through His providential control, produces confidence in those who know He is directing all things after the counsel of His will.  The growing believer knows “it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure” (Phil. 2:13).  Where the Bible is silent, the believer seeks to discern God’s will through His providential direction as He guides people and circumstances as He pleases.  God controls all of life (Gen. 2:17; Job. 1:21; Ps. 104:29–30; Eccl. 12:7; Dan. 5:23), human birth and calling (Ps. 139:13-16; Jer. 1:4-5; Gal. 1:15), nature (Ps. 147:8; Jonah 1:4; Mark 4:39-41), plagues (Ex. 7–11; 12:29; Rev. 16:10-11), the roll of dice (Prov. 16:33; cf. Ps. 22:18; Matt. 27:35), health and sickness (Deut. 28:27-30; 2 Chron. 21:18; Ps. 41:3; Acts 3:16), prosperity and adversity (1 Sam. 2:7; Job 2:10; Isa. 45:5-7), suffering (Ps. 119:71; Heb. 12:5-11), and the development of Christian character (Rom. 5:2-5; 2 Cor. 12:7-10; Jam. 1:2-4).  The growing believer takes great delight in knowing his good, loving and wise God is in control of His creation and is directing all things according to His providential plan.

Steven R. Cook, D.Min.

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[1] Henry Clarence Thiessen and Vernon D. Doerksen, Lectures in Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, MI; Cambridge: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1979), 122.

[2] J. I. Packer, “Providence” in New Bible Dictionary, ed. D. R. W. Wood, I. H. Marshall, A. R. Millard and D. J. Wiseman, 3rd ed. (Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1996), 979-80.