'God Intended It for Good'
'God Intended It for Good'
In 1947, a young New Yorker named Glenn Chambers had a lifelong dream to work for God in Ecuador. At the airport on the day of departure, he wanted to send a note to his mother but he didn’t have time to buy a card. He noticed a piece of paper on the terminal floor and picked it up. It turned out to be an advertisement with ‘Why?’ spread across it. He scribbled his note around the word ‘Why?’ and put it in the post box. That night his aeroplane exploded as it hit the 14,000-foot Colombian peak El Tablazo. When his mother received the note after the news of his death the question burned up at her from the page… ‘Why?’
Why does God allow such suffering? This question is the single greatest challenge to the Christian faith. The amount of suffering and its distribution seem to be random and unfair. It outrages and bewilders us.
Theologians and philosophers have wrestled for centuries with the mystery of undeserved suffering, and no one has ever come up with a simple and complete solution. Today and tomorrow’s passages are only part of the answer, but each of them gives us some insight.
We see that although suffering is never good in itself, God is able to use it for good in a number of ways. God loves you. Your suffering is also God’s suffering. He suffers alongside you. Yet he does not always simply remove suffering from your life; he sometimes uses the bad things that happen to bring about his good purposes.
God uses suffering to transform youPsalm 15:1-5
Have there been times in your life when, because of circumstances, you have felt shaken? Times when you have lost your bearings and felt tempted to give up?
Today’s psalm reminds us that you need ‘never be shaken’ (v.5), even in times of suffering. David describes the kind of life that God intends you to lead. The guidelines he gives are things you can hold on to during the difficult times:
Seek to walk blamelessly and to do what is right (v.2a).
Tell the truth
‘… speak the truth’ from your heart (v.2b).
Do not gossip
Let ‘no slander’ come from your tongue (v.3).
Do not hurt your neighbour
Do your ‘neighbours no wrong’ (v.3).
Keep your word
Keep your promises ‘even when it hurts’ (v.4b). This means doing whatever you have committed to do even when it does not suit you (a particular challenge for our generation, when a simple text message can cancel an arrangement at any moment).
If you lend money don’t charge excessive interest (v.5a).
Never take ‘bribes’ (v.5b).
As our character begins to transform in these ways, difficult circumstances and suffering have less of a destabilising impact upon us. As the psalmist notes, ‘Those who do these things will never be shaken’ (v.5c) and you will dwell in the sanctuary of the Lord (v.1a).
As times of suffering lead to character formation, so character formation leads to knowledge of secure hope and experience of God’s love (Romans 5:3–5). Hope and love are the greatest stabilising forces that you can know in the face of suffering and uncertainty.
Lord, thank you that you accept me as I am, but you do not want me to remain that way. Help me to live a holy life. Help me to see the trials and difficulties I face as part of my character formation.
God used suffering to save youMatthew 17:14-18:9
Jesus came to deal with suffering (17:22–23); ultimately to remove all suffering, through the cross and resurrection.
At the heart of the universe is the suffering of God on the cross: ‘“The Son of Man is about to be betrayed to some people who want nothing to do with God. They will murder him – and three days later he will be raised alive.” The disciples felt terrible’ (vv.22–23, MSG). They did not understand that what human beings (and all the demonic powers) intended for evil, God intended for good – the saving of many lives.
He was able to take the greatest evil ever committed (the killing of the Son of God) and use it for the greatest good (the salvation of humankind).
The healing of the boy with epilepsy (v.18) is a foretaste of a time when there will be no more sickness or suffering. The death and resurrection of Jesus means that no one need ‘be thrown into the fire of hell’ (18:9).
How should you respond?
In this passage we see the terrible suffering (17:15, MSG) of a child with sickness and the resulting suffering of a parent. In this particular case, the disciples’ inability to heal came from their lack of faith (although this is not always the case – some people have prayed for healing with enormous faith but without obvious results). Jesus says that if you have even a tiny bit of faith you can move mountains. ‘Nothing will be impossible for you’ (v.20).
Don’t cause unnecessary offence
Jesus explains that though he is exempt from paying the tax for the temple (God’s house) because he is God’s own Son, he makes a miraculous payment for both himself and Peter, ‘So that we may not offend them’ (v.27). Although Jesus was willing to cause offence if necessary, he did not want to cause unnecessary offence.
Greatness in the kingdom of heaven is not about achievement; it is about humbling yourself like a child (18:4).
Jesus calls us to be ruthless in cutting sin out of our lives (vv.7–9).
Lord, thank you that at the heart of the universe is the event where you turned evil into good. I put my trust in you. I depend on you.
God uses suffering for his good purposesGenesis 49:1-50:26
Whatever evil other people – or even the devil – plan against you, God is able to use for his own good purposes: for your own good and the benefit of others who will be blessed through your life and ministry.
As Jacob came to the end of his life, he blessed his sons. He blessed Judah with victory, prosperity and leadership. Judah was to become the most powerful southern tribe of Israel and, in the person of David, provided the king of the whole nation.
We see here a foreshadowing of Jesus: ‘The sceptre will not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet’ (49:10). Later on, we will read that ‘A star will come out of Jacob; a sceptre will rise out of Israel’ (Numbers 24:17). Jacob uses the image of the lion (Genesis 49:9). Jesus is described as the ‘Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David’ (Revelation 5:5).
Jacob went on to bless Joseph, ‘a fruitful vine’ (Genesis 49:22). He had been through difficulties and attacks, but God used it all for good. Joseph was successful because God’s hand was upon him and turned the evil into blessing (50:20).
When Jacob died, Joseph’s brothers were worried that Joseph would take revenge for all the wrongs they had done to him (v.15). 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’ (vv.19–21).
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?’
See God’s hand in everything that happens to you – good and bad. See it all with the eyes of faith. Understand it all as part of God’s plan to bring good out of evil (just as he did through Jesus’ death on the cross).
The promise of the New Testament is that God will use everything that happens to you for good. As you face trials, temptation, struggles and difficulty, the New Testament assures you 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).
Lord, help me to forgive totally those who have harmed me in any way. Help me to see your hand in everything that happens to me – whether good or bad. Thank you that in all things you are working for the good of those who love you.
‘… if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, "Move from here to there…”’
A mustard seed doesn’t sound very much. It must be possible. There are still some big mountains on my prayer list that don’t seem to have moved. This is an encouragement to keep praying, even for the big things.
Verse of the Day
‘… if you have faith as small as a mustard seed… nothing will be impossible for you’ (Matthew 17:20–21).
For a wider discussion about suffering, see Nicky Gumbel’s booklet: Why Does God Allow Suffering?
It is also available in chapter 1 of Nicky Gumbel’s book Searching Issues.
R. T. Kendall, God Meant it for Good, (Paternoster Press, 2003) p.62
Unless otherwise stated, Scripture quotations taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version Anglicised, Copyright © 1979, 1984, 2011 Biblica, formerly International Bible Society. Used by permission of Hodder & Stoughton Publishers, an Hachette UK company. All rights reserved. ‘NIV’ is a registered trademark of Biblica. UK trademark number 1448790.
Scripture marked (MSG) taken from The Message. Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002. Used by permission of NavPress Publishing Group.