One of the crucial distinctions to make in our understanding of suffering and evil is the difference between the error of calling God the author of evil and the truth that God is in the business of turning evil into good. The difference between these two concepts may seem subtle, but the implications are tremendous. We do our young people a great service when we help them understand this distinction. As the late Ralph Winter wrote, “God is not ‘behind’ the evil in the world, He is ‘in front’ working good out of evil.”
The story of Joseph in the book of Genesis is an example of this. In their jealousy and dislike of Joseph, his brothers sold him into slavery in Egypt. After many twists and turns, the story ends with Joseph, now in a position of power, saving his brothers and their families during a time of famine. Joseph summarizes God’s work in the story with, “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive” (Gen 50:20). Who set the evil in motion? Joseph’s brothers were the authors of evil against Joseph, not God. But as is His habit, God turned the evil to good.
Not surprisingly, Jesus, “the exact imprint of God’s nature” (Heb 1:3), emulated the Father in this regard during His time on earth. The apostle John wrote, “The Son of God appeared for this purpose, that He might destroy the works of the devil” (I Jn 3:8). We are familiar with the great “work of the devil” destruction Jesus accomplished on the cross that set us free from both the penalty and power of sin; sin introduced in the world by Satan. But are we as familiar with Jesus destroying “the works of the devil” in His earthly ministry?
Acts 10:38 describes Jesus’ ministry like this, “You know of Jesus of Nazareth, how God anointed Him with the Holy Spirit and with power, and how He went about doing good, and healing all who were oppressed by the devil; for God was with Him.” Is it possible that all the sick people Jesus healed were “oppressed by the devil”, not just those identified as demon-possessed in the classic sense?
We do know that in the case of the woman with the eighteen year illness that it was caused by Satan. And in turning evil into good, Jesus “unwound” the evil, sickness, and suffering when He healed her. Jesus also turned evil into good when He healed the Gerasene demoniac and returned him to his right mind. Was every healing Jesus performed an “unwinding” of Satan’s work and turning the evil intentions of Satan into God’s redeeming purpose for good? Just a thought.
In any case, the Jesus who went about doing good emulated God, the Father, by consistently turning what Satan meant for evil into His good purpose. And of direct import to us, Jesus has enlisted us to join Him and continue the task of “destroying the works of the devil.” Let’s talk about our role in the unfinished work next time.