Providence and Evil

“But as for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, in order to bring it about as it is this day, to save many people alive” (Gen. 50:20).

- Genesis 50:15–21

God’s acts of providence can be difficult to understand or accept. The things that happen to us may not seem good at all. In fact, we may be the victims of acts of real evil. But that does not mean God is not working through the evil to bring about His purposes.

Joseph learned this lesson through a series of very unhappy experiences. Jacob was blessed with 12 sons, but Joseph was his favorite (Gen. 37:3). Jacob therefore gave Joseph preferential treatment, causing his brothers to be intensely jealous of him. When an opportunity presented itself, they sold him to a group of Midianite traders, who in turn sold him to an officer of Pharaoh in Egypt. Later, his master’s wife falsely accused him of trying to assault her, leading to his incarceration in prison. He helped a fellow prisoner, a servant of Pharaoh, and asked only that the man would put in a good word for him to the king when he was released, but the man forgot to do so for two years. How much tribulation and disappointment could Joseph stand?

Finally, however, Joseph was able to interpret a dream for Pharaoh and subsequently was elevated to a position of power subordinate only to the king. In that role, he was charged with preparing Egypt for the coming famine that had been revealed in Pharaoh’s dream. He performed his task so well that when the famine came on, enough grain was stored away to meet both Egypt’s needs and those of foreigners. Thus it was that Joseph’s brothers eventually journeyed to Egypt to buy grain to make bread, and Joseph at last could see that God had used all of the “bad” things that had happened to him to bring about a very good end—to put him in a position from which he could save many lives, including those of his father and brothers.

The unpleasant or “evil” things that occur to us may not be part of God’s plan to bring us to positions of power, but they are ordained by God for some good end. This Scriptural teaching that God uses even the evil acts of men to accomplish His good purposes is known as the doctrine of concurrence. It reminds us that God ordains not just ends but means. Human beings are free to choose as they desire (and will bear the guilt when they choose to sin), but God somehow works in and through those choices. His providence encompasses even the evil that men do.

Coram Deo

Have you ever been betrayed by a friend, falsely accused, unfairly overlooked, or otherwise Leviticus mistreated? Whoever did such to you likely was acting in an evil way. But Scripture affirms that God, too, has a purpose in the evil things that happen to you—a good purpose. Ask Him to help you keep this in mind when you are ill-treated.

Passages for Further Study

Isa. 10:6–12
Acts 2:23

First published in Tabletalk Magazine, an outreach of Ligonier. For permissions, view our Copyright Policy.