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Turning Adversity to Good

“We know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.”

- Romans 8:28

If the Bible teaches us that God brought every created thing into existence and that nothing would be here if not for His acts of creation (Gen. 1:1), then we have to admit that even trouble and adversity could not exist without Him. Any doctrine of creatio ex nihilo — God’s creation of the universe out of nothing — must deal with the vexing problem of evil. It must answer many questions, including: “Can a good God do evil? How did evil get here? Does evil have a purpose?”

Admittedly, the Lord has not revealed everything we might like to know about His relation to evil. Yet there are many issues related to evil on which Scripture is clear. First, the Bible tells us that evil never occurs outside God’s sovereign decree. He works all things according to His will, and evil is no exception (Eph. 1:11). Even “calamity” occurs under His all-encompassing reign (Isa. 45:7). Many well-meaning Christians say that the Lord has nothing to do with terrorism, hurricanes, cancer, disabilities, and so on because they want to protect His good character from besmirchment. We sympathize with their intent, but Scripture does not allow us to say that God has nothing to do with wickedness. Our understanding of God’s goodness must be big enough to account for His sovereignty over evil.

The Bible is likewise plain that the Lord cannot do evil Himself. He tempts no one, nor can He be tempted (James 1:13). God is so pure that He cannot tolerate evil in His presence, let alone do it (Hab. 1:13). He alone is good, so evil cannot enter into His intent or actions at all (Mark 10:18).

Ultimately, we have to say that although evil happens according to God’s sovereign will, His ordination of evil is not evil because His intent for allowing evil is not evil. When evil people plot and do their dastardly deeds, the Lord is working in the situation for good ends. This is what He did when Joseph’s brothers sinned (Gen. 50:20). This is what He is doing when evil happens to us.

When we understand that God is the Creator, question and answer 26 of the Heidelberg Catechism tell us, we know that He may “send” adversity our way. But His goodness and sovereignty means that He will also “turn to [our] good” such affliction. This is the comforting truth taught in today’s passage.

Coram Deo

Dr. R.C. Sproul comments on the origin of evil and what Scripture has to say about it: “How sin got here we do not know, but it is here. The good news of Scripture is that there is redemption from sin” (Truths We Confess, vol. 1, p. 182). This redemption includes more than just the forgiveness of our own transgressions. It also means that the Lord will ultimately redeem every sin and tragedy for His glory and the good of His people.

Passages for Further Study

Psalm 23
Psalm 23
Titus 3:3–7
Titus 3:3–7

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