How God uses bad things for good.
“I dare not say but my Lord Jesus hath fully recompensed my sadness with his joys, my losses with his own presence. I find it a sweet and rich thing to exchange my sorrows with Christs joys, my afflictions with that sweet peace I have with himself.”– Samuel Rutherford
A great comfort to me when I consider affliction and hardships is how God uses all things for good.
Romans 8:28 says: “We know that all things work together for the good of those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.”
Musing 1: Painful circumstances work for good.
We are comforted in knowing God, whose character is good. Job is instructive to us in how God works. Job says; “The Lord gives and the Lord takes away, blessed be the name of the Lord.” Who gives and takes away? The Lord is the one who ultimately controls all things, even the Devil is the Lord’s devil.
Why is this comforting? Think about the alternative, God is not in control, the evil that happens is solely the result of circumstances and the devil. We are at the mercy of Satan and whatever he wants. God then is subservient to the will of Satan or evil. It makes God have to respond to and use what is broken and repair it.
But what if there is an alternative? What if Scripture teaches God is in control of all things, yet not the author of evil.
The Second London Baptist Confession of Faith puts it this way: “God the good Creator of all things, in His infinite power and wisdom does uphold, direct, dispose, and govern all creatures and things, from the greatest even to the least. By His most wise and holy providence, to the end for the which, they were created, according to unto His infallible foreknowledge, and the free and immutable counsel of His own will; to the praise of the glory of His wisdom, power, justice, infinite goodness, and mercy.” Chapter 5 (https://1689londonbaptistconfession.com/5)
All this leads up to the good news, God is the Surgeon with a scalpel using afflictions. God cuts out the tumor with affliction. Or think about chemotherapy, poisonous chemicals that in the wrong hands are deadly, but with the right hands are medicinal.
This is the message of 1 Peter 1:6–7 (CSB): You rejoice in this, even though now for a short time, if necessary, you suffer grief in various trials so that the proven character of your faith—more valuable than gold which, though perishable, is refined by fire—may result in praise, glory, and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.
We see this plainly in life, physical fitness, “No pain, no gain,” muscles have to tear to grow stronger, to be stretched and rebuilt. Pain produces growth.
An interesting experiment was done in Arizona called the Biodome, scientists wanted to see how to set up life on another planet so they made a big dome and tried to control the environment. The trees that were planted there grew but eventually fell over. They needed the wind to blow on them and cause them to grow deeper roots, but because they were planted without adversity they grew shallow and fell over.
Scripture gives us numerous examples of providences that seem to be damaging and that are instead beneficial. Joseph was thrown into a pit, later sold into slavery and finally accused of adultery and thrown into prison. Eventually, he was made second in charge of Egypt. His placement allowed many people in the land to survive the upcoming famine. In the end, he tells his brothers, “What you meant for evil, God meant for good (Gen 50:20). Or Job (Job 42:10), or Paul who persecuted the church and was blinded by God so that the light of grace would shine into a conversion (Acts 9:6). The largest example of this in the Bible is that of Jesus on the cross, what seemed like a massive failure was actually a great victory. What man meant for evil God planned for good.
So affliction or our trauma is a teacher. It teaches us to understand, we understand what sin is. The heinous nature of sin is shown in the damage it does to everyone. Most people won’t take a diagnosis of illness seriously until it begins to hurt them. God let’s loose affliction which helps us realize its bitterness.
Many of us have a low view of sin. We think it is a mistake or just a lapse. The reality is it is worse than cancer, it is poison it is of eternal damage to us and everyone around us.
God uses affliction to give us corrective eye surgery so we can see sin for what it is, cosmic rebellion against The Holy and Perfect God.
It also teaches us to know ourselves. When things are going just right we don’t know our true nature. But when things happen to us, when we experience trauma our true nature shines through, our impatience, our unbelief, our lack of trust in God all come to the surface. It is not until we are afflicted that we see how corrupt our heart is. It is not until we cough blood that we see our illness as serious needing radical amputation or surgery.
Purpose for our afflictions
The purpose of our afflictions, or we could say afflictions work for good as they conform us to Christ. This is what Romans 8:28-29 show us. The purpose of all of this is to make us more like Christ. Thomas Watson wrote; “God’s rod is a pencil, to draw Christ’s image more lively upon us.” It is good to be like Christ even though the road to get there is by suffering. The cup Christ drank was bitter, and the wrath of God poured out on Him. Christ’s sufferings satisfied the wrath of God, while ours are only corrective.
Painful circumstances work for good to those who love God, because they are destructive to sin. Once again it is like chemotherapy for the cancer of sin. This chemo helps us hold to the things of this world less tightly.
If you have ever had to move a big boulder you know that to displace it you need to dig up around it before it budges. God digs up our earthly comforts to loosen our attachment to the lesser things we cling to.
A result of all of this is that we have greater comfort, better peace more hope. Our sorrow will become joy! (John 16:20). What we reap in tears will be harvested with joy. Our parents discipline us in order to prosper us, what an amazing thought that God our Father would discipline us in order to correct and guide us.
How circumstances work for good
So how do painful circumstances work for good? They draw us nearer to God, they sanctify us. God sets our earthly comforts on fire so that we run to Him the true source of comfort.
Another benefit of affliction or trauma is that it sets an example for unbelievers. How often do unbelievers talk down to believers because of prosperity? They say things like; “You serve God only because you want the benefits, you are only a pastor because you can’t get a real job.” But when God’s people endure suffering the atheists of the world see that God has a people who serve Him out of love alone. The devil accused Job of being a hypocrite because Job was well blessed by God. Job still worshiped his God even when all his comforts and joys were taken.
Painful circumstances work for good, by preparing us for eternal life, they don’t earn this eternal life, but prepare us for it, 2 Cor 4:17. The comforts of this life prevent us from the comforts that are found in Christ. We cling to earthly joys and hopes and never set our hearts on heaven. This life is a desert wilderness in preparation for the promised land. We don’t earn salvation or glory through suffering, but it does prepare us for it.
Musing 2: Temptations work for good
Satan is called many names, but Tempter is one of his primary duties. He lies in ambush and works on whatever Christian he can find. I could write more about the means and methods and extent of Satan’s temptations, however, I would rather give you an illustration. Satan is like a skilled fisherman, he knows what bait to use, where to cast, the best times and dates and hours. He baits the hook with care and knows when to cast out his line and when to pull it in. He has thousands of years of experience. Not only that he enlists others into his service by enticing others to get in on the temptations.
One of his tricks is to come as an angel of light with Scripture in his mouth, twisting it to suit his needs. He approached Jesus this way in the wilderness. He quoted Scripture and tried to entice Jesus to use His power for personal gain and glory. Jesus of course did not fall into the trap.
Yet Satan’s tricks are subtle and are often hard to avoid. He can implant thoughts into the mind he put it into Judas’ heart to betray Christ (John 13:2). Satan can corrupt and work within the heart to embrace temptation. The Devil cannot override the will but he can provoke or incite others to evil (1 Chronicles 21:1).
Eight ways God overrules temptations
Yet God even uses this for good. Thomas Watson writes that there are eight ways God overrules temptations for good.
1. Temptation sends the soul to prayer. We should be driven to pray more the more we are tempted. In combat when you are shot at you tend to run faster than if you were on a daily jog. We should pray more when Satan is shooting at us. Anything that makes us pray more is a good thing!
2. Temptation to sin is used to keep us from acting on it. The more you are tempted, the more you fight against that temptation. Satan spurs temptation and we are more prone to resist. Think about when someone makes a rule you disagree with, the more they push it, the more you resist.
3. Temptation is an antidote to pride. The older I get the more disappointed I am in myself when I fall prey to temptation. I should know better. It is humbling to me to have to fight off old temptations.
4. Temptation tests our hearts, it reveals what is inside. When I feel tempted it is because something inside me is out of order. Consider this, if I did not like Ford pickups and someone offered me a Ford pickup I would not have any inclination to do what they wanted me to do to get it. This is how sin works, if there wasn’t something inside us that wanted it, we wouldn’t be tempted. So it points out our corruption.
5. Temptation makes us able to help those who experience similar temptations. If you have temptations you know how they work in you. You become more aware of how different situations affect you. Paul of course provides the example, 2 Corinthians 2:11 (CSB): so that we may not be taken advantage of by Satan. For we are not ignorant of his schemes.
You become like an expert tour guide able to bring people through dangerous areas watching out for errors and circumstances.
6. Temptation makes us more compassionate to others. When one of our kids gets sick we tend to baby them more than the others who are well. When we suffer a particular temptation we are much more helpful to those who are under it.
7. Temptations make us long for heaven. Temptations make us long for home, where we aren’t being shot at. Think about a Soldier on deployment who longs to be home. A soldier cherishes his home all the more because it is safe.
8. Temptation makes us lean on Christ more. Christ is our friend and when we are tempted His power works in us. We are more than conquers with Christ Jesus, (Romans 8:37).
As you can see there are many ways God uses temptations for our good. I would add that if we fall prey to temptation we can be grieved by it so much that we never want to look at it again. I know some people who come out of bondage to sin, once they broke free they avoided it for the rest of their lives preventing long-lasting enslavement. God uses that for our good as well. By opening our eyes to the deceitful mess of sin.
Musing 3: The Sins of others work for our good
1. God overrules the sins of others for our good. They produce holy sorrow, we weep for those who rush headlong into destruction. We mourn for those who are in rebellion against God. If shows that we have a Christ-like heart, Christ wept for the hardness of the people (Mark 3:5).
2. The sins of others make us pray more, when people sin against us we pray in the pain that was caused against us. When I read the Psalms I see David often crying out in His pain and suffering when others do him harm. When family members or loved ones rebel against God we are inclined to pray more for them as our heartbreaks.
3. The sins of others make us more joyous when they turn from them. Think about the joy we have when our children turn from a wicked path. We celebrate when people turn from sin and wickedness. But when we see someone else’s sin we also are less interested in it. Think about how another person’s pride makes us want to be humble. Or watching an angry person makes us more careful not to emulate their temper tantrums.
The list could continue but I think you get the idea, that sin is a poison that corrupts everything and needs a sovereign antidote. The worse sin is the more we see our need for a Savior. We prize Christ more.
As you can see, we could write more about this, and in much greater detail. The summary of this shows us that God works all things for good, good, and bad things. Suffering and sin all work for good.
This may not be an immediately comforting truth, it takes time to dwell on and meditate on. Think about it and dwell on it.
It takes time
These truths may take some time to provide comfort. For me, I needed these truths. The book of Job shows us that in times of suffering and hardship we need a big God. The end of the book of Job is comforting as it shows us who God is. Read Job chapter 38 to the end.
What about you? Do find comfort in knowing who God really is?