Is it not from the mouth of the Most High that good and bad come? (Lamentations 3:38)
Most people find it pretty easy to accept that the good things which happen are from the hand of a good God. But what about the bad? What about tragic, painful experiences? Can they really be from God? Are they really under his governance? Can they really be for a good purpose?
The Bible says, yes, they are. Yes, they can.
Boldly, the Lord declared through the mouth of Isaiah:
“I form light and create darkness; I make well-being and create calamity; I am the Lord, who does all these things.” (Isaiah 45:7)
Lamentations 3:38 agrees, “Is it not from the mouth of the Most High that both good and bad come?” Perhaps, when he wrote this, Jeremiah was thinking about the sufferings of Job whose confidence in the sovereign God fueled a humble response: “Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?” (Job 2:10).
Now, let me be clear. Scripture does not teach that God is evil. Neither is he the cause of sin or temptation (James 1:13). Nonetheless, the Bible does affirm God employs both good and evil for his gracious purposes. This is the mystery of providence.
If you’re struggling to accept these concepts then I encourage you to consider the life of Joseph. Sold into slavery by his own blood brothers, taken to a foreign land, falsely accused by an immoral woman, and thrown into prison…Joseph was forgotten. Even forgotten by men he had helped get out of prison! (Genesis 37-40).
Many years later, however, Joseph was exalted to a place of international prominence, and reunited with his family. When his brothers realized the authority their brother possessed, they feared he would treat them the same way they had treated him. But this only proved they did not really know their brother, at least their “new brother,” the one humbled by suffering, and filled with the grace of God. As he looked into his brothers’ frightened eyes, Joseph 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” (Genesis 50:20).
Think about it. God used multiple griefs and losses to strategically place Joseph into the second most powerful position in the Egyptian government, and move his family into the path of blessing. God did this to fulfill his promise to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (Joseph’s father), and save his chosen people from worldwide famine. Most importantly, God preserved the earthly line of the Messiah, Jesus Christ.
Consider what good would never have taken place had Joseph not been betrayed, falsely accused, and imprisoned.
Look backwards with me. Notice the good that God brought about from evil.
- The nation of Israel, and the lineage of Messiah, is saved from extinction (Genesis 50:20). But how and why did Jacob’s family end up in Egypt?
- Jacob sent his sons to Egypt to purchase grain, due to the worldwide famine (Genesis 42:1-3). But why was there grain in Egypt?
- Joseph initiated a plan to fill the storehouses with grain, not only enough for the Egyptians, but for all who are willing to sell their land to Pharaoh (Genesis 41:46-57). But why did Joseph come up with this plan?
- Joseph was promoted to second-in-command in Egypt after he interpreted Pharaoh’s dreams about 7-years of plenty followed by 7-years of famine Genesis 41:15-45). But how did Joseph come to interpret Pharaoh’s dream?
- Two years after being released from prison Pharaoh’s cupbearer remembers Joseph’s ability to interpret dreams, and tells the king (Genesis 40:1-23; 41:9-14). But why was Joseph in prison in the first place?
- Joseph is falsely accused by his employer’s wife, and thrown into prison (Genesis 39:1-23). But why was Joseph a servant in Potiphar’s house?
- Joseph is sold to a band of traveling Midianites who, in turn, sell him to Potiphar (Genesis 37:12-36). But why was Joseph sold to the Midianites?
- Joseph’s brothers despise him, and his parents are annoyed by the dreams which predict his future prominence (Genesis 37:1-11).
Do you get the picture?
God had a plan to bring about good, through evil, but Joseph didn’t see it along the way. Still he trusted in the Lord’s gracious providence. You need to do the same. Be confident that God is somehow bringing good to pass through your pain—even if you won’t get to see the specifics of that good in your own lifetime.
Ask God to help you walk by faith, not by sight.