One of the common difficulties that people have when it comes to placing their trust in God is often referred to as “the problem of evil.” Philosophers and Theologians continue to have lengthy debates on this issue, and it has a wide range of complications that we won’t get into today. To put it simply, the “problem of evil” states:
“The Bible defines God as being all loving and all powerful. An all loving, all powerful God would not allow evil to exist in the world. Because evil exists, God, if He exists, must not be all loving or all powerful or both. Certainly, the God of the Bible cannot then exist.”
As I said, there are many levels to this ‘problem’ and we don’t have time to discuss it at length, but let me suggest that the proponents of “the problem of evil” are mistaken in their second premise. It is not necessary for the existence of evil to exclude the existence of an all-powerful, all-loving God. As we will see in today’s Scripture passage, sometimes God sovereignly uses evil in order to accomplish His loving purposes.
Please read Genesis 50:19-21.
It is undeniable that the actions of Joseph’s brothers were evil. They regularly bullied their brother and, in their jealousy, they fostered a hatred of him that grew until they finally decided to murder him and cover up his murder. After thinking it over, cooler heads prevailed and they settled on merely selling him into slavery, because at least that way they could profit off of his misfortune!
Joseph’s brothers know that they had committed wickedness against their brother—pure evil. So, they humble themselves before him and beg of his forgiveness. Now that he is in a place of power, he has the ability to punish them for their wickedness, and surely justice demands that they be punished, right? After all, the ‘problem of evil’ suggests that Joseph’s brothers were only able to commit such evil because God either didn’t care or was unable to stop them. Now that Joseph is in power, he surely cares and is able to provide retribution.
But God does care, and He always has cared. God is all loving. What’s more, God always was, always is, and always will be in complete sovereign control over everything in His creation. He could have stopped this evil from happening had it been in His will.
So why didn’t He? If God cared about Joseph and had the power to stop this evil from happening to him, why did God let it happen?
Joseph has the answer: “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.”
God always sees the bigger picture, but humans rarely can see the forest through the trees. Joseph has the privilege of seeing the bigger picture, and he recognizes that he had to go through all of his trials so that he could be in the position he’s in now. God used the evil that Joseph’s brothers intended for the greater good—so that thousands of people could survive the coming famine, Joseph could be raised up to the position that God had prophesied through a dream, and the nation of Israel could be led into Egypt where they would again suffer before finally being introduced to God on a much more personal level.
Sometimes God allows us to experience evil, but this doesn’t mean He is not all-powerful or all-loving. As Garth Brooks famously sang, “just because He doesn’t answer doesn’t mean He don’t care. Some of God’s greatest gifts are unanswered prayers.”
Ours is not to understand the ways of God. Our place is just to trust that He is Good, He is Sovereign, and He is working all things out for the good of those who love Him.
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