Day 25

'God Intended It for Good'

Wisdom Psalm 15:1–5
New Testament Matthew 17:14-23,18:1-5
Old Testament Genesis 50:18–21

Introduction

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?¹ 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.

Wisdom

Psalm 15:1–5

1 LORD, who may dwell in your sacred tent?
   Who may live on your holy mountain?
2 The one whose walk is blameless,
   who does what is righteous,
   who speaks the truth from their heart.
3 whose tongue utters no slander,
   who does no wrong to a neighbour,
   and casts no slur on others;
4 ... who keeps an oath even when it hurts,
   and does not change their mind;
5 who lends money to the poor without interest;...
... Whoever does these things
   will never be shaken.

Commentary

God uses suffering to transform you

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:

  1. Act right

    Seek to walk blamelessly and to do what is right (v.2a).

  2. Tell the truth

    ‘… speak the truth’ from your heart (v.2b).

  3. Do not gossip

    Let ‘no slander’ come from your tongue (v.3).

  4. Do not hurt your neighbour

    Do your ‘neighbours no wrong’ (v.3).

  5. 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).

  6. Be generous

    If you lend money don’t charge excessive interest (v.5a).

  7. Be honest

    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 David 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.

Prayer

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.

New Testament

Matthew 17:14-23,18:1-5

17
14 When they came to the crowd, a man approached Jesus and knelt before him. 15 “Lord, have mercy on my son,” he said. “He has seizures and is suffering greatly... 16 I brought him to your disciples, but they could not heal him.”

18 Jesus rebuked the demon, and it came out of the boy, and he was healed at that moment.

19 Then the disciples came to Jesus in private and asked, “Why couldn’t we drive it out?”

20 He replied, “Because you have so little faith. Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.”

22 When they came together in Galilee, he said to them, “The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men. 23 They will kill him, and on the third day he will be raised to life.” And the disciples were filled with grief.

18 At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who, then, is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”

2 He called a little child to him, and placed the child among them. 3 And he said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. 4 Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. 5 And whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.

Commentary

God used suffering to save you

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?

  1. Have faith

    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).

  2. 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.

  3. Humble yourself

    Greatness in the kingdom of heaven is not about achievement; it is about humbling yourself like a child (18:4).

  4. Be radical

    Jesus calls us to be ruthless in cutting sin out of our lives (vv.7–9).

Prayer

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.

Old Testament

Genesis 50:18–21

18 His brothers then came and threw themselves down before him. ‘We are your slaves,’ they said. 19 But Joseph said to them, ‘Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God? 20 You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. 21 So then, don’t be afraid. I will provide for you and your children.’ And he reassured them and spoke kindly to them.

Commentary

God uses suffering for his good purposes

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).

Prayer

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.

Pippa adds

In Matthew 17:20, it says, ‘… 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

Matthew 17:20–21

‘… if you have faith as small as a mustard seed… nothing will be impossible for you’

Thought for the Day

God will use everything that happens to you for good.
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References

¹For 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.

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