Previous article in this series: November 15, 2018, p. 88.
When evils come upon us in this life, it is a great comfort to know that they are sent by our Father in heaven who loves us. We may not always think about this right away. Yet, it is often not long before we begin to meditate on what God has told us. We think on how He has assured us that He loves us and that He is accomplishing His good purpose with our afflictions. We remember His promise that He will be with us, and that He will continue to uphold and guide us each day. Believing what our Father says, we are strengthened and remain patient in such difficult times.
There are a number of aspects to this subject. In this article we will briefly consider the following:
- What is an evil?
- Does God really send evils or is it better to say that He permits them?
- Are evils sent as a punishment for sin? What about the evils that come upon God’s people whom He loves?
- How is it that these evils are turned to our advantage?
God sending evils
The word evil is used in more than one sense. In addition to its common use to refer to that which is sinful, it is also used to refer to that which would tend to cause injury, pain, or sorrow. Scripture speaks of evil beasts (Lev. 26:6; Ezek. 34:25) and evil diseases (Deut. 7:15), for example.
When an evil comes upon us, it is correct to say that God has sent it. Although some are uncomfortable saying this, it is biblical language. God spoke of sending evil beasts and the evil arrows of famine: When I shall send upon them the evil arrows of famine, which shall be for their destruction, and which I will send to destroy you: and I will increase the famine upon you, and will break your staff of bread: So will I send upon you famine and evil beasts, and they shall bereave thee (Ezek. 5:16-17a).
Even evil spirits are said to be sent by God: Then God sent an evil spirit between Abimelech and the men of Shechem; and the men of Shechem dealt treacherously with Abimelech (Judges 9:23).
God sends evil upon those committing evil. God spoke of this when He warned the Israelites about what would come upon them if they turned to other gods: Then my anger shall be kindled against them in that day, and I will forsake them, and I will hide my face from them, and they shall be devoured, and many evils and troubles shall befall them; so that they will say in that day, are not these evils come upon us, because our God is not among us? And I will surely hide my face in that day for all the evils which they shall have wrought, in that they are turned unto other gods (Deut. 31:17-18). Those who commit evil receive the just judgment of having evil come upon them.
This refers to God sending not only evil diseases and wild beasts, but also evil persons who attack. Repeatedly in Scripture we read of God using one group of people to attack another. When the Assyrians took Israel captive and when the Babylonians took Judah into captivity, it was Jehovah who was using these ungodly empires to execute His judgment.
God used the word “evil” to refer to such invasions: Shall a trumpet be blown in the city, and the people not be afraid? shall there be evil in a city, and the Lord hath not done it? (Amos 3:6). When there was “evil” (for example, an attacking enemy) in the city, the one who had “done it” was Jehovah God. He was the one who was sending the evil as a just judgment against the sin of the people.
That God sends evils has long been known and confessed by God’s people. The prophet Jeremiah, for example, asked God to bring upon his persecutors “the day of evil” (Jer. 17:18). Both in the old dispensation and in the new, God’s people have believed that evils come not by chance, but by the hand of our faithful Father in heaven.
The multitude of passages that speak of this assure us that God certainly is governing this world, executing His judgments throughout this age. Yet there is an important distinction between His judgments upon the ungodly and His judgments that come upon His people in Christ.
Evils coming upon God’s people
God sends evils also upon His people. An evil may come upon us even when we are walking with God with a good conscience. From the hand of our God we receive not only good, but also evil. This is what Job confessed when he rebuked his wife after she told him to “curse God, and die.” But he said unto her, Thou speakest as one of the foolish women speaketh. What? shall we receive good at the hand of God, and shall we not receive evil? In all this did not Job sin with his lips (Job 2:10).
Job confessed that both good and evil come to us from our heavenly Father. It was not wrong for him to confess this. God says: “In all this did not Job sin with his lips.”
God does indeed send evils also upon His children, but He sends them in His love for our profit. All our sins have been punished already. The punishment came upon our Lord in our place. We confess this in our Lord’s Supper Form: …the wrath of God against sin is so great, that (rather than it should go unpunished) He hath punished the same in His beloved Son Jesus Christ with the bitter and shameful death of the cross.
Though our sins have already been atoned for, our heavenly Father does afflict us with various evils. He does so in His love for us, teaching us to place our firm trust in Him alone.
We know this because our heavenly Father has told us. Though He does not tell us why a specific evil has come upon a specific person, He does tell us that He sends afflictions upon us in His love, and that He turns them to our profit. We sing in the Psalms that we know these afflictions are for our good: Before I was afflicted I went astray: but now have I kept thy word (Ps. 119:67). It is good for me that I have been afflicted; that I might learn thy statutes (Ps. 119:71).
We know, from the book of Job, for example, that we are not to look at the afflictions that come upon God’s people and think that the more holy a person’s life is the less afflictions he will receive. God has a specific place for each one of us in the body of Christ, and He makes use of afflictions as He prepares us for this.
Learning in our afflictions
In our afflictions our Father is teaching us to withdraw our trust from ourselves and to place it alone in God. Paul says that this was the lesson that God was teaching him in a very difficult trial in which he thought he was going to die: But we had the sentence of death in ourselves, that we should not trust in ourselves, but in God which raiseth the dead (II Cor. 1:9).
Elsewhere Paul said that God sent him an affliction to humble him, and to teach him that God’s strength is made perfect in weakness (II Cor. 12:9).
Our affliction at times may seem heavy. It may seem very heavy, and it may appear to go on for a long time. Yet our Father in heaven tells us that our affliction is actually light and that it will last only for a short time. He also assures us that He is using these light afflictions to work for us an exceeding and eternal weight of glory: For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory; while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal (II Cor. 4:17-18).
The last part of that verse tells us something about how He turns these afflictions to our profit. In our afflictions we learn to look not at the visible things, but at the invisible things. We grow more to think on and cling to the covenant promises of our God.
By means of this faith we receive more grace and are more conformed to the glorious image of our Lord. Knowing this, we actually glory in our afflictions. We say with Paul, When I am weak, then I am strong (II Cor. 12:10).
What a comfort it is for us to know that our Father in heaven governs all things, and that His good purpose is always being accomplished. With this comfort we learn to be patient in our afflictions, and to thank our God, not only when He averts the evils, but also when He sends them and turns them to our profit.