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Joseph and the Problem of Evil

First let me say that I realize it has been quite a while since my last post.  Several factors have contributed to the delay, but I have every intention of re-engaging in the blogosphere and with much more regularity.

I’d thought I start by sharing some some excerpts from a recent sermon I preached on Joseph and the Problem of Evil.  Below you will find some of the main points as well as some quotes from men I greatly respect.  I also think it important here to note that many of the thoughts below are not original to me as I have been greatly shaped by Tim Keller’s “The Reason for God” and his other writings on the subject of suffering and evil. 

Before I share my thoughts and the text, let me share that I have two presuppositions that I am working from:

  1. Evil and suffering exist
  2. God is sovereign over my suffering.

So this leads me to ask the question, “What is my response to to the evil and suffering that happens to me and in the world around me?” 

Here is Genesis 50:15-21: “When Joseph’s brothers saw that their father was dead, they said, “It may be that Joseph will hate us and pay us back for all the evil that we did to him.”  So they sent a message to Joseph, saying, “Your father gave this command before he died, ‘Say to Joseph, Please forgive the transgressions of your brothers and their sin, because they did evil to you.”  And now, please forgive the transgression of the servants of the God of your father.”  Joseph wept when they spoke to him.  His brothers also came and fell down before him and said, “Behold, we are your servants.”  But Jospeh said to them, “Do not fear, for am I in the place of God?”  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.  So do not fear; I will provide for you and your little ones.”  Thus he comforted them and spoke kindly to them.”

When Joseph looked at the grand scheme of things he was able to say, “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.”  But how do we respond?  I’d like to contend that we can respond one of four ways:

  1. We can abandon all belief in God.  We can come to the conclusion that if there is a good and benevolent God then there is no way that He would allow the evil that exists today.  Therefore God must not exist.  But if we are honest this still doesn’t deal with the real issue.  The issue is that we recognize that evil is wrong and we have to still account for why it exists.  And if God doesn’t exist then we must come to the conclusion that evil we see and experience is a result of an evolutionary process whereby the strong destroy and oppress the weak through whatever means necessary.  And in the deep recesses of our gut we still know that this isn’t right…it still doesn’t solve our problem.
  2. We can question God.  We can cry out to God questioning why He does what He does.  And when we do we often resolve ourselves to answers like “God’s ways are higher than our ways, and His thoughts are higher than our thoughts.”  In other words we come to the conclusion that there are some things that we just don’t and may never know.
  3. We can grin and bear it.  This is simply a resignation that suffering and evil is a part of life and my response to it is to take whatever comes my way.

For the Christ follower options 2 and 3 certainly carry with them much truth.  There are times that we cry out to God and come to the conclusion that God’s ways are in fact higher than our ways…and His thoughts are greater than our thoughts.  And it is true that we do need to persevere through our suffering regardless of what it is.  But deep down we know that at times, even as Christians, these responses don’t fully satisfy.  I believe there is a fourth way that is far greater.

4.  I can hope in God!  We know as followers of Christ that God identifies with those who suffer.  We see it all through the Scriptures as God speaks clearly regarding the poor, oppressed, downtrodden, and outcasts.  But He doesn’t just talk about these things.

Jesus entered into History and our story…AND HE SUFFERED!  In Galatians 4:4-5 we read, “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth yhis Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under teh law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.”  How is it that Christ redeemed us?  It is through the suffering of the cross!  Jesus, upon entering into history, did the most remarkable thing!  He suffered!  He experienced evil at the hands of men who hated and despised who He was and what He taught.  And this was God’s plan for Jesus, for we read in Acts 4:27-28, “…for truly in this city there 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 your plan had predestined to take place.”

So, what does this teach us?  It teaches us that although we can’t fully understand why God allows suffereing, we can understand that He cares and loves us enought to suffer Himself.  So, evil that is done to us, cannot be because God doesn’t love us!  For if He didn’t love us He would have never put on flesh and suffered.  As Tim Keller said, “The opposite of love is not hate.  It is indifference!”  For God to be indifferent towards us in our suffering would be the ultimate sign that He didn’t love us…but He does love us and shows us by entering into history and suffering Himself.

And we know that Jesus’ death is not the end of the story!  For we know that Jesus was crucified, buried, and on the third day rose again!  And if the resurrection really happened, which I passionately believe that it did, then Christ is who He said He is and can do what He said He can do, which is to reconcile us to God and grant us the same resurrection!

I love how Dr. Keller said it, “…in John 11 we hear Jesus say: I am the resurrection and the life!  Now this is what the claim is: That God is not preparing for us some ethereal, abstract spiritual existance that is just a kind of compensation for the life we lost.  Resurrection means the restoration to us of the life we lost.  New heavens and new earth means this body, this world!  Our bodies, our homes, our loved ones–restored, returned, perfected and beautified!  Given back to us.”  He would go on to say, “Everything sad is going to come untrue and it will somehow be greater for having once been broken and lost.”

This is why we can, with great confidence, claim Romans 8:28 which says, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.”

Therefore as Christians let’s remember, EVIL NEVER WINS OUT!  For nothing can frustrate the plans of God!

One final thought from James Montgomery Boice, “When people conspire to harm us and actually inflict wounds born of cruel hatred or indifference, we will not call their evil good.  Evil remains evil.  Sin is still sin.  But we will testify before these and the world that in a universe ruled by a sovereign and benevolent God–our God–their evil will not succeed.  We will say, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good.”  We will declare that in the ultimate assessment, nothing can be anything but good for God’s people.”

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2 comments on “Joseph and the Problem of Evil

  1. Good post Will… reminds me of the response of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abendnego (spelling is mine and made up ;^).

    They said something to the effect of “God can save us from this evil, but even if He chooses not to, it is not because He is not Sovereign or that evil has prevailed”. My paraphrase, but reminds us us that option 1 really is not a valid response.

    Hopefully this will bring encouragement and hope to those experiencing the problem of evil.

    -steve

  2. Thanks for the great sermon on Sunday. As Christians, we should EXPECT spiritual warfare and evil when we are obedient to the Lord and His will in our lives.
    “…greater is he that is in you, than he that is in the world.”
    1 John 4:4

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