Thomas Watson – 10 Ways the Evil of Affliction Works for Good

NPG D29707; Thomas Watson by John Sturt, after  Unknown artist

The evil of affliction works for good, to the godly.

It is one heart-quieting consideration in all the afflictions which befall us—that God has a special hand in them: “The Almighty has afflicted me” (Ruth 1:21). Instruments can no more stir until God gives them a commission, than the axe can cut, by itself, without a hand. Job eyed God in his affliction: therefore, as Augustine observes, he does not say, “The Lord gave—and the devil took away,” but, “The Lord has taken away.” Whoever brings an affliction to us, it is God who sends it.

Another heart quieting consideration is—that afflictions work for good. “I have sent them into captivity for their own good.” (Jer. 24:6). Judah’s captivity in Babylon was for their good. “It is good for me that I have been afflicted” (Psalm 119:71). This text, like Moses’ tree cast into the bitter waters of affliction, may make them sweet and wholesome to drink. Afflictions to the godly are medicinal. Out of the most poisonous drugs God extracts our salvation. Afflictions are as needful as ordinances (1 Peter 1:6). No vessel can be made of gold without fire; so it is impossible that we should be made vessels of honor, unless we are melted and refined in the furnace of affliction. “All the paths of the Lord are mercy and truth” (Psalm 35:10). As the painter intermixes bright colors with dark shadows; so the wise God mixes mercy with judgment. Those afflictive providences which seem to be harmful, are beneficial. Let us take some instances in Scripture.

Joseph’s brethren throw him into a pit; afterwards they sell him; then he is cast into prison; yet all this did work for his good. His abasement made way for his advancement, he was made the second man in the kingdom. “You thought evil against me—but God meant it for good” (Gen. 50:20).

Jacob wrestled with the angel, and the hollow of Jacob’s thigh was put out of joint. This was sad; but God turned it to good, for there he saw God’s face, and there the Lord blessed him. “Jacob called the name of the place Peniel, for I have seen God face to face” (Gen. 32:30). Who would not be willing to have a bone out of joint, so that he might have a sight of God?

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Mike Frisby – What Do We Do in the Face of Suffering?

For many people living in the West where the cultural bias is towards an expectation of everybody being healthy and living longer, sickness readily becomes seen as the main focus of one’s “suffering”. But, suffering is a far broader concept than struggling with physical, emotional or mental illness.

The Dictionary defines suffering as

– A serious pain that someone feels in his or her body or their mind.
– A situation in which something painful, harmful or very unpleasant happens to you.
– Being badly affected by an unfavourable event or situation.
– The bearing of pain, inconvenience or loss; pain endured; distress, loss or injury incurred.

This paper seeks to widen our understanding and handling of some of the real life situations of suffering that confronts us on a daily basis. But, because of the breadth of the subject, it has been necessary to be selective on what areas and aspects of the subject to include. The hope is that the following material will help build a working Biblical framework for further thought and study on the subject.

Setting the scene

“Act of God” is a legal term for events outside of human control, such as sudden floods or other natural disasters, for which no one can be held responsible.

And the opening decade of the 21st Century has seen its fair share of them!

Europe Heat Waves (35,000 dead)
China Earthquake (70,000 dead)
Iran Earthquake (43,000 dead)
Guatemala/El Salvador Hurricane (1,638 dead)
Asian Tsunami (275,000 dead)
Global Swine Flu (11,800 dead)
Hurricane Katrina (1,800 dead)
Haiti Earthquake (230,000 dead)
Pakistan Earthquake (75,000 dead)
Pakistan Flooding (1,800 dead)
Myanmar Cyclone (146,000 dead)
Russian Heatwave (15,000 dead)

Notwithstanding, the sobering effects of these particular statistics, the United Kingdom based charity Oxfam has stated publicly that, “the number of people hit by “climate-related” disasters is expected to rise by about 50%, to reach 375 million a year by 2015”.

(For a helpful article on the issue of natural disasters see, “Do natural disasters disprove God’s existence” by John N. Clayton at www.whypain.org )

Not everybody blames “God” for these disasters, but standing in the bus queue, supermarket checkout, or in conversation over a pint at the pub, it is still very common to hear people raise the question of why the “Almighty” does not step in to prevent such devastation to property and human life? Or to put the question in more familiar apologetic terms, “How could a good God allow suffering? How can you believe in God when there is so much suffering and evil in the world?”

Michael Ramsden writing in a recent article on suffering says that in the Western world today, “the existence of any form of pain, suffering or evil has been regarded as evidence for the non-existence of God. If a good God existed, people say, these things wouldn’t. But they do and, therefore, He doesn’t”.

(It is interesting to note that in the same article, he states he has never been asked questions about God and suffering when travelling in India or other nations riddled with the daily realities of suffering!)

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Dr. Albert Mohler – The Goodness of God and the Reality of Evil

Every thoughtful person must deal with the problem of evil. Evil acts and tragic events come to us all in this vale of tears known as human life. The problem of evil and suffering is undoubtedly the greatest theological challenge we face.

Most persons face this issue only in a time of crisis. A senseless accident, a wasting disease, or an awful crime demands some explanation. Yesterday, evil showed its face again as a giant tornado brought death and destruction to Moore, Oklahoma.

For the atheist, this is no great problem. Life is a cosmic accident, morality is an arbitrary game by which we order our lives, and meaning is non-existent. As Oxford University’s Professor Richard Dawkins explains, human life is nothing more than a way for selfish genes to multiply and reproduce. There is no meaning or dignity to humanity.

For the Christian Scientist, the material world and the experience of suffering and death are illusory. In other religions suffering is part of a great circle of life or recurring incarnations of spirit.

Some Christians simply explain suffering as the consequence of sins, known or unknown. Some suffering can be directly traced to sin. What we sow, so shall we reap, and multiple millions of persons can testify to this reality. Some persons suffer innocently by the sinful acts of others.

But Jesus rejected this as a blanket explanation for suffering, instructing His disciples in John 9 and Luke 13 that they could not always trace suffering back to sin. We should note that the problem of evil and suffering, the theological issue of theodicy, is customarily divided into evil of two kinds, moral and natural. Both are included in these passages. In Luke 13, the murder of the Galileans is clearly moral evil, a premeditated crime–just like the terrorist acts in New York and Washington. In John 9, a man is blind from birth, and Jesus tells the Twelve that this blindness cannot be traced back to this man’s sin, or that of his parents.

Natural evil comes without a moral agent. A tower falls, an earthquake shakes, a tornado destroys, a hurricane ravages, a spider bites, a disease debilitates and kills. The world is filled with wonders mixed with dangers. Gravity can save you or gravity can kill you. When a tower falls, it kills.

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Chad Bird – Job, Theologian of the Cross

The book of Job is a catechism on the theology of the cross. Throughout the centuries countless believers, bruised by the rod of suffering, have embarked on a pilgrimage into the heart of this ancient story to inquire, “Why do the innocent suffer?” Many have retreated from the answers sadly disappointed, others passionately frustrated, and still others-like Job-faithfully content. Perhaps the reason some find the answers inadequate is because they have failed to ponder a far weightier question, “How is God known by man?” Truly, that question lurks behind every syllable of this holy book. And it is that question which jerks the head of the sufferer upward, and rivets our eyes on the cross of Jesus Christ. For only there is the divine understanding of suffering revealed.

The Life and Times of Job

The prologue of Job introduces the reader to a patriarchal hero who is exemplary in piety, blessed with affluence, paternally productive (seven sons, three daughters), and the scrupulous household priest of his close-knit family (1:1-5). All is well in the life and times of Job. Then one day the satanic serpent slithers into the throne-room of Yahweh and argues that Job walks in the path of righteousness only because of his material blessings. Satan challenges God, “But put forth thy hand now and touch all that he has; he will surely curse thee to thy face” (1:11). Soon thereafter, through a blitzkrieg of natural and supernatural disasters, Job loses livestock, servants, and all ten of his children. Unmoved, however, from his firm stance of faith, Job confesses, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I shall return there. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away. Blessed be the name of the Lord” (1:21).

The devil reappears before God and this time argues, “Skin for skin! Yes, all that a man has he will give for his life. However, put forth thy hand, now, and touch his bone and his flesh; he will curse thee to thy face” (2:4-5). With divine approval Satan then “smote Job with sore boils from the sole of his foot to the crown of his head” (2:7). At this, even Job’s wife mutters, “Curse God and die!” Nevertheless, Job persists in his integrity.

With the advent, however, of Job’s three friends-Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar-and a seven-day, seven- night vigil of silent suffering, the tenor of the account changes. What follows in the main body of the book (chaps. 3-37) are three cycles of ever intensifying debate-like speeches between Job and his unholy trinity of accusatory friends. Job vigorously defends his innocence in the face of their legalistic claims that he must have sown vast seeds of iniquity to be reaping such ghastly fruits. Finally, when the friends have blunted their arguments against the iron wall of Job’s defense, a spectator named Elihu enters the fray. He first chides Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar for their poor arguments and then proceeds to offer his views. Although sharpening the previous arguments, Elihu too falls short in his endeavor to probe into the mystery of suffering.

Finally, wisdom speaks. Hiding and revealing himself within whirlwind and storm, Yahweh puts Job on the stand in the celestial courtroom, twice interrogating him (chaps. 38-39, 40-41). The divine questions are exquisitely crafted to evoke humility, awe, fear, faith, and wisdom in Job. In response to this twofold interrogation, Job twice utters confessions of repentance and faith, ultimately coming to terms with his suffering and his God.

The epilogue paints a joyous portrait of complete reversal-one might even say “resurrection.” Job is publicly vindicated by God, while his friends are indicted because they did not speak of God rightly (42:7). The suffering patriarch becomes their sacerdotal intercessor, offering sacrifices to atone for the sins of their mouths. The Lord then restores Job’s fortunes by doubling the number of livestock he had previously possessed, granting him ten more children, and bestowing upon him a long life and, finally, a blessed end.

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Sam Storms – Tornadoes, Tsunamis, and the Mystery of Suffering and Sovereignty

I’m inclined to think the best way to respond to the tragedy that struck our community today is simply to say nothing. I have little patience for those who feel the need to theologize about such events, as if anyone possessed sufficient wisdom to discern God’s purpose. On the other hand, people will inevitably ask questions and are looking for encouragement and comfort. So how best do we love and pastor those who have suffered so terribly?

I’m not certain I have the answer to that question, and I write the following with considerable hesitation. I can only pray that what I say is grounded in God’s Word and is received in the spirit in which it is intended.

I first put my thoughts together on this subject when the tsunami hit Japan a couple of years ago. Now, in the aftermath of the tornado that struck Moore and other areas surrounding Oklahoma City, I pray that those same truths will prove helpful to some. Allow me to make seven observations.

(1) It will not accomplish anything good to deny what Scripture so clearly asserts, that God is absolutely sovereign over all of nature. He can himself send devastation. Or he may permit Satan to wreak havoc in the earth. Yes he can, if he chooses, intervene and prevent a tornado, a tsunami, and all other natural disasters. In the end, we do not know why he makes one choice and not another. In the end, we must, like Job, join the apostle Paul and say: “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor? Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid? For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen” (Romans 11:33-36).

(2) God is sovereign, not Satan. Whether or to what extent Satan may have had a hand in what occurred we can never know. What we can know and must proclaim is that he can do nothing apart from God’s sovereign permission. Satan is not ultimately sovereign. God alone is.

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Steven Cook – Overcome Evil with Good

The Christian lives in a fallen world, and in order for him to overcome evil, he must grow spiritually and live in regular dependence on God the Holy Spirit to sustain and direct his life according to Scripture. The Holy Spirit will never lead the Christian independently of Scripture. Learning God’s Word necessarily precedes living His will, as the Christian cannot live what he does not know. Change his mind and you’ll change his ways. After regeneration, the Christian’s mind is still filled with a lifetime of worldly thinking, which will cause him problems to the degree that it remains the basis for his decisions in life. If he thinks like the world then he’ll live like the world. Worldly viewpoint should give way to the light of God’s Word as the Christian begins to adjust his thinking and bring it into conformity with the mind of God. As Christians, we are always in the process of “destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ” (2 Cor. 10:5). We do this so we will “not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect” (Rom. 12:2). For the Christian, overcoming evil starts with a change in his thinking that leads to a change in his behavior. Without solid thinking rooted in Scripture, the Christian will not be able to stand against the evil pressures Satan will put on him.

The Christian living in society sometimes faces tremendous pressure to conform to the values and behaviors of those around him. Not only does the Christian face the external pressure of those who are weak and have given themselves over to Satan’s evil system, but he also faces the pressure of his own sin nature that has a natural affinity with the devil’s world. If Satan were a broadcaster sending out his radio signal, the sin nature would be that internal receiver that is automatically tuned to its message. There is a part of us that is corrupt and is naturally bent toward evil, whether moral or immoral, and we must be aware of this flaw within ourselves. We are given a new spiritual nature at the moment of salvation, which is naturally tuned to God’s message and is receptive to the Holy Spirit. The Christian’s new spiritual nature is continually in conflict with his old sinful nature, as these are in complete opposition to each other. The Apostle Paul tells us, “the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please” (Gal. 5:17; cf. Rom. 8:5-8).

The old nature (which has its origin in our physical birth) fights against the new nature which we receive when we are born again (Gal. 5:16–26). No amount of self-discipline, no set of man-made rules and regulations, can control this old nature. Only the Holy Spirit of God can enable us to “put to death” the old nature (Rom. 8:12–13) and produce the Spirit’s fruit (Gal. 5:22–23) in us through the new nature.[1]

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