To His Good Purpose
by Jeremy O'Bryan
Does God bring trouble upon people? Is God to blame for our suffering?
This weekend I spent some time at Wagner’s German Bakery in Olympia studying a random Bible passage. With no particular plan in mind, just my thick blue Bible, a pen, and a notebook, I thumbed to a page, stopping in the Gospel According to Matthew.
I began reading near the end of Chapter 22, where some Jews in Jerusalem are grilling Jesus about some details of the law and of the Scriptures. With his answers he pretty much shuts up his critics. Verse 46 says “No one could say a word in reply, and from that day on no one dared to ask him any more questions.”
The Christ then turns to the crowds and his disciples and lets loose a tirade upon the heads of the teachers of the law, the Pharisees and their ilk.
“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites!” he says. He delivers this harsh blow seven times in Chapter 23, each time pointing out just how these Jewish zealots are missing the point. By the end of Chapter 23 it’s easy to understand the phrase we often hear about fearing the Lord.All this chastisement is great fun and very revealing about the nature of God. But it’s that statement in Verse 34 that caused me to pause.
“… I am sending you prophets and wise men and teachers. Some of them you will kill and crucify; others you will flog in your synagogues and pursue from town to town.”
This behavior that Christ knows the Pharisees will do, he asserts, will lead to their condemnation.
We often view this passage as Christ-centric, as in his judgement and wrath; or Pharisee-centric, as in their pride and hypocrisy — how NOT to be.
I had the temporary depth of mind to look further into this story …
“I am sending you prophets and wise men and teachers …”
Hmmm. What about them? What if we look at the story from the their perspectives? We usually don’t consider what it must be like to be the prophet, the wise man, the teacher.Here’s an innocent bystander to whom God gives a heart of understanding. This man will then be sent to speak the truth of the Gospel — sent to be pursued, flogged, stoned, crucified, and killed.
Isn’t this what Jesus is saying? That he sends people to be killed? Wise people? People with caring hearts? Killed!
My time of study ended with the kind of clarity that only comes with several cups of freshly brewed coffee. The central thought? That God may, should he choose, turn me, or you, over to be beaten down, robbed, raped, or killed.
But why? What if I’ve asked him to transform me? Promised to love him? Been really good to everyone? Sacrificed for social justice? If He has promised to forgive my wickedness and remember my sin no more, why would He inflict this damage on me?
The words I kept hearing in my mind:
Who am I to question God, who is both Good and Sovereign? I don’t believe that every act of evil or every injustice is directly caused by God. I know about the Fall of Man and understand something about free will. But I must acknowledge that God may, To His Good Purpose, deliver me to a beating, or indeed to my own death.
So, back to my two-part lead question.Does God bring trouble upon people? Is God to blame for our suffering?
Yes. And no.
But while God may indeed set an unfortunate occasion upon me, it is completely up to me how I respond. Do I suffer? Or do I rejoice? Do I cower in fear and chalk it up to some punishment God is inflicting upon me? Perhaps the path I choose truly determines what I think about God and His Sovereignty, His Goodness, His Good Purpose. It helps me to remember this from Paul’s letter to the Romans:
“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to his good purpose.” (Romans 8:28)
I wonder what you think about it.