Deliverance – Part II
February 10th, 2013
Albert Fish appeared to be a very kind man. He was a grandfather, not at all intimidating, and was generous. He seemed to care about people. His wife loved him dearly and believed him to be a great husband. His children looked up to him and respected him as their dear father. But Mr. Fish had a secret. Over a period of many years, he befriended a number of young children. Using false names and false identities, he earned the trust of their families, ultimately luring these children into his trap. He abused them. He murdered them. He did unspeakable things to their bodies. He cooked them and ate them. He created his own favorite recipes using the bodies of children. If his own words are to be believed, Albert Fish had around 100 victims in his lifetime.
This past Christmas Eve, a church in northern Nigeria gathered together for a Christmas Eve service. During the service, gunmen came into the church and killed six people, including the pastor. The following Saturday, December 29th, Nigerian gunmen entered the homes of Christians who had recently moved into a neighborhood and slaughtered 15 of them. The next day, gunmen entered a northern Nigeria church and killed another fifteen people. These gunmen are a part of Boko Haram, an Islamic extremist group.
Friends, we live in a world in which real evil exists. This is a world in which six million Jews were systematically killed through gas chambers and other means for simply being born Jewish. This is a world in which people will strap themselves up with explosives and intentionally seek to kill as many victims as possible. This is a world in which a young man will walk into a school and take the lives of 20 first graders.
How do you make sense of this? If our God is real, and He is good, and He is all-powerful, then how can evil exist? Surely if He is good, He is against evil. Surely if He is all-powerful, He has the power to vanquish evil. So if this good, all-powerful God is real, why is there evil in this world? Could it be that our God’s sovereignty is limited? Could it be that He does not have control over evil? Could it be that evil exists in this world and in your life because God is incapable of stopping it?
The glorious truth that we are studying in our passage this morning gives us clear answers to these questions. Our God is all-powerful and good. He has infinite sovereignty – nothing is outside of His control. Evil exists because God has ordained it to exist, and all for the purpose of good.
The key verses of this chapter, and of all of this portion of Genesis, are verses 5, 7, and 8. Verse 5: “And now do not be distressed or angry with yourselves because you sold me here, for God sent me before you to preserve life.” The brothers sold Joseph in to slavery. This was an evil deed. Yet Joseph said that through this deed, God sent him to Egypt for a good purpose. Lives are being preserved.
Look at verse 7: “And God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth, and to keep alive for you many survivors.” In other words, the sin of these brothers was used by God to show mercy to these brothers. This family – the family of Jacob, of Israel – is God’s remnant on the earth. They are among the very few who know the true God and worship the true God. God has been working even through their sin to preserve their lives.
Look at verse 8: “So it was not you who sent me here, but God.” Yes, the brothers were the immediate cause of Joseph being sent to Egypt. But they were not the primary cause. God’s will was the primary cause. This is the doctrine of providence: God works all things according to the counsel of His own will.
Last time we looked at this passage we saw that God’s providence extends even to the thoughts, words, and actions of human beings. Even the things which we do freely of our own wills are still ultimately a part of God’s plan, accomplishing His purpose.
This morning, we are going to notice a second truth about providence taught here. God’s providence works good from evil. God’s providence works good from evil.
To unpack that truth, I want us to answer three questions. 1: Is God truly sovereign over evil? 2. Does this make God the Author of evil? 3. Why would our good God ordain for evil to exist?
Is God Truly Sovereign Over Evil?
1. Is God truly sovereign over evil?
Our passage seems to indicate that this is indeed the case. The evil actions of these brothers was not outside of God’s control, but was part of His will. In Genesis 50:20 we will hear Joseph say this, “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.”
If these were the only verses in the Bible that spoke this way, we might assume that Joseph’s story was a special case. But his was not a special case. Over and over again the Bible shows God’s control over the evil that happens in this world.
Surely Pharaoh hardening his heart against God, refusing to submit to God’s will – that was evil. That was wicked rebellion and pride. And the book of Exodus tells us that Pharaoh hardened his own heart. Yet, listen to what God told Moses ahead of time in Exodus 4:21: “And the LORD said to Moses, ‘When you go back to Egypt, see that you do before Pharaoh all the miracles that I have put in your power. But I will harden his heart, so that he will not let the people go.” Who hardened Pharaoh’s heart? Pharaoh did – he was the immediate cause. He committed the sin. But ultimately Pharaoh did only what God ordained and caused him to do, so that God could get glory over Pharaoh.
We see something very similar in Joshua 11, when kings from Canaan lead an attack against God’s people. Listen to verse 20: “For it was the LORD’s doing to harden their hearts that they should come against Israel in battle, in order that they should be devoted to destruction and should receive no mercy, but be destroyed, just as the LORD commanded Moses.” It was the LORD’s doing.
In the book of Job, we are told that Satan himself was at work to destroy Job’s livestock, and to kill Job’s children and servants. Yet when Job, in his misery, reflected on the evil that had happened to him, he said, “Naked I came from mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD.” We might say, “Job, you’ve misunderstood! It was Satan who did these things. Don’t charge God with doing wrong!” But the very next verse says, “In all this Job did not sin or charge God with wrong.” You see, Job was not being sinful or misguided – he was acknowledging the truth. Even the worst that Satan can do can only come to pass with God’s permission.
Amos 3:6: “Is a trumpet blown in a city, and the people are not afraid? Does disaster come to a city unless the LORD has done it?
Isaiah 45:7: “I form light and create darkness; I make well-being and create calamity, I am the LORD, who does all these things.”
The greatest example of God’s providence extending to evil is the cross itself. The murder of Jesus was the greatest evil act ever committed. This was not just the killing of an innocent man – it was the torture and murder of the very Son of God, the King of glory, the Creator and Sustainer of us all. Who committed the vilest act in human history? Was it Pilate? Was it the Roman soldiers? Was it the crowd who yelled, “Crucify Him! Crucify Him!” Is Judas to be held responsible? Yes – all of these played their part. All of these contributed to the murder of Jesus. But listen to Peter preaching to the crowd in Acts 2:23: “this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men” Did you hear that? According to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God. Or listen to Acts 4:27-28. Here we have the Christians in Jerusalem praying, and they say to God, “for truly in this city were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place.” Is that not clear? Yes, Herod and Pilate and the Gentiles and the Jews all had their part. But they did what God’s hand and plan had predestined to take place.
God is sovereign over evil – even the evil in your life. No calamity, no evil word spoken to you, no evil deed done to you is outside of His control. No, it is a part of His plan for your good. Even your own sins, though He hates them with true and furious hatred, are still a part of His plan to cause you to love the mercy and grace given in Jesus Christ. God’s providence extends even to evil.
Is God the Author of Evil?
Now, this creates a problem. If God’s working of all things according to His plan includes evil thoughts, words, actions, events – doesn’t this make God the Author of evil?
If, by Author, we mean that God actually commits sin, the answer is absolutely not. The Bible is clear that God cannot nor will not commit evil:
Deuteronomy 32:4: “The Rock, his work is perfect, for all his ways are justice. A God of faithfulness and without iniquity, just and upright is he.”
Job 34:10: “Therefore, hear me, you men of understanding: far be it from God that he should do wickedness, and from the Almighty that he should do wrong.”
Psalm 5:4: “For you are not a God who delights in wickedness; evil may not dwell with you.”
James 1:13: “Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am being tempted by God,’ for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one.’”
1 John 1:5: “This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all.”
To say that God commits sin is to be guilty of blasphemy. He is pure and blameless, and all sin is disgusting to His eternal soul.
Now, added to this, we know that God rightly holds responsible those who do commit sin, even though that sin was in His plan. For example, God judged Pharaoh for hardening his heart against God, though we know that God had ordained this.
Consider Judas. Jesus said this about Judas in Matthew 26:24: “The Son of Man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that man if he had not been born.” What Judas did was not only ordained by God, but was prophesied centuries before he did it. Nevertheless, Judas did it willingly, and Jesus says that his punishment will be so severe that it will have been better for him had he never been born.
In 1 Samuel 24 we are told that God incited David to take a sinful census of the people of Israel. A few verses later, we find David grieving over and confessing his sin. God punishes him. God had ordained the sin and worked to bring it to pass, but He still punishes David, and does so justly. You see, though God ordains and works to bring sinful things to pass, He is never the direct cause. The wickedness in our hearts is the direct cause. God knows what is in each person’s heart, and He knows how to arrange circumstances so that we choose willingly to do good or evil.
Think about our study of Joseph. God knew He wanted to get Joseph to Egypt. He also knew that Judah’s heart in particular was prone toward the sin of greed – always looking for a way to make money. So, just at the time that the brothers have attacked Joseph, what does God do? He brings a slave caravan by. The timing is perfect. God does not cause Judah to sin. Judah is no robot here. But by arranging circumstances in this way, Judah will sin, and God’s purpose will be done. Judah’s wicked heart will be the main mover, but God has orchestrated it all. And don’t forget, in all of this, God is working for ultimate good. Judah’s life will be saved because of this.
The Bible is clear that God ordains evil, but does not commit it. Moreover, evil no more springs forth from God than darkness springs forth from light. Would we argue that darkness comes from the sun? No. Darkness is the absence of the sun’s influence – it’s the absence of light. So it is with sin in this world. God is pure goodness and light. He overflows with grace and love. But at times, He withholds Himself from the heart of someone. This is what it means for God to harden someone’s heart. God is constantly overflowing in grace on everybody – or we’d all be worse than Hitler. But at times God chooses to pull the shades a little lower, let a little less light in. He lessens His influence and grace on a heart, and wherever God is not, darkness is. Sin is not so much a thing as the absence of a thing. Sin is the absence of God-ness. Evil does not come from God. Evil is the absence of God in us. And when He lessens His gracious influence on our lives, we live in un-godliness.
So is God the Author of evil? No. He is the Author of good. And for goodness’ sake, He wills that evil be.
Why Would Our Good God Ordain Evil Acts?
But why? This is question 3: Why would our good God ordain that evil be?
This is where men like John Piper and Jonathan Edwards have been so helpful in my life. Jonathan Edwards in particular tackled this question, seeking to bring to us a biblical answer. What I would like to do is read you his answer, and then show it to you in the Bible.
It is a proper and excellent thing for infinite glory to shine forth; and for the same reason, it is proper that the shining forth of God's glory should be complete; that is, that all parts of his glory should shine forth, that every beauty should be proportionably effulgent, that the beholder may have a proper notion of God. It is not proper that one glory should be exceedingly manifested, and another not at all. . . .
Thus it is necessary, that God's awful majesty, his authority and dreadful greatness, justice, and holiness, should be manifested. But this could not be, unless sin and punishment had been decreed; so that the shining forth of God's glory would be very imperfect, both because these parts of divine glory would not shine forth as the others do, and also the glory of his goodness, love, and holiness would be faint without them; nay, they could scarcely shine forth at all.
If it were not right that God should decree and permit and punish sin, there could be no manifestation of God's holiness in hatred of sin, or in showing any preference, in his providence, of godliness before it. There would be no manifestation of God's grace or true goodness, if there was no sin to be pardoned, no misery to be saved from. How much happiness soever he bestowed, his goodness would not be so much prized and admired. . . .
So evil is necessary, in order to the highest happiness of the creature, and the completeness of that communication of God, for which he made the world; because the creature's happiness consists in the knowledge of God, and the sense of his love. And if the knowledge of him be imperfect, the happiness of the creature must be proportionably imperfect.
In other words, God’s purpose in this universe is ultimately to have for Himself a people, bearing His image, who share in His eternal joy as they behold His glory. God’s purpose is to thrill these people with all His glorious character, including His awesome love. But apart from evil in this world, there is so much of God’s glory that we would never see. We would not understand His justice or righteousness. We would have no concept of grace or mercy. Even His love would seem not so great, because it did not cost God anything. You see, church, though God hates evil with an infinite passion, He has ordained that evil be for the purpose of the greater good. With evil in the world, He is able to display all of His attributes in wondrous and perfect proportion, and His people can grasp something of the height, and the width and the breadth, and the depth of just how awesome God’s love for them really is. Evil exists for the same reason Satan exists – so that God can get glory over them, and good can be truly known and celebrated forever and ever.
Where do we see this in the Bible? Do you even have to ask. I know we’re being slow in getting there, but we are going to get to Romans 8. And you know that precious verse which means so much to us. Romans 8:28: “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to His purpose.” All things for good! For good! Even evil things ordained and worked for good.
This is the message of Joseph and his brothers. This is the message of the Bible to you in the midst of your suffering and hardship. God has not brought difficulty in your life for no reason. Trust Him. He loves you. He has your welfare in mind. He has your eternal happiness in mind. He is doing you good.
At the very center of this great plan is the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. The cross is the hinge on which God’s great plan swings. It is at the cross that we see God’s great hatred of evil, as He pours out hell upon His Son for the guilt of sinners. Christ cries out, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” as His soul endured an anguish greater than you or I can imagine. But it is also at the cross that we see God’s great love and mercy, as it is revealed that Christ is standing in the place of sinners like you and me. Dear friend, you cannot come to God without coming to the cross. It is through the cross that the glory of God is most clearly expressed to you. Do you see it, or are you still blind? Does your heart melt as you stand in awe of this God, both His power and His great compassion towards you? Can you now say with David that the steadfast love of the LORD is better than life?
Friends, do not reject this God. Do not ignore Him. You won’t be able to ignore Him forever. I am here as His ambassador this morning, bringing to you His message. He says to you, “Dear sinner: you have done much that is wrong. You have done much that has grieved Me and roused up My righteous anger. But I love you. Through Jesus Christ, I have done everything necessary for you to be right with Me. Humble yourself and receive my love. See that I am good and wise, turn from your sins, follow Me. Trust Me.” This is what God says to you. He says, “Trust my Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, and I will forgive your sins. I will make you my special child. I will bring your soul safely to heaven, and I will find My joy in blessing you with the wonder of My own glory.”
Dear friend, to reject this God is to commit spiritual suicide – don’t do it. Don’t reject a God so good. He is full of love and tenderness, but He is not safe. If you spurn Him, then for the sake of His own glory and for the sake of the happiness of His people, He will come against you. This is a God who loves His people with a love deeper than the Pacific Oven, greater than the expanse of the universe. Will you not be one of His? Will you not raise the white flag, surrender yourself to His truth and His teaching, and follow the Lord Jesus Christ? I pray you will. Let’s pray.