“…but God intended it for good…”.
There are at least two occasions in the Bible where we find a combination of divine sovereignty and human responsibility. A classic example of this is in Genesis 50 where Joseph’s brothers, conscience-stricken by their earlier cruel treatment of him beg for forgiveness. They are fearful that Joseph, now in a position of great power, will want to get his revenge on them. Joseph’s response is a wonderful example of grace and a recognition of God’s sovereign purposes. “You intended to harm me”, he says, “but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives”.
Notice two things here:
- God is so utterly sovereign that he can take our wrong-doings (or even our wrong-not-doings) and works them into his own intentions. God is never taken by surprise by our sin. He is not into some sort of spiritual re-cycling whereby he asks himself: “How am I going to make something useful out of this junk?” It is, rather, as if he takes our sinful actions in his stride. He is capable of using absolutely anything in his perfect plan.
- But that does not give us carte blanche to sin! We are still accountable to God for our sin. We need to repent of it, even that which he intends to use for good. Indeed, it is as we repent that we are open to seeing the good that God works through our weakness and failure by his grace that can never fail to amaze us.
We find a supreme example of divine sovereignty and human responsibility in Peter’s words on the day of Pentecost. Acts 2:23 “This man was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and knowledge (divine sovereignty); and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death (human responsibility)…” But, as in the case of Joseph, God’s intention was far-reaching: “But God raised him from the dead…”!(v24)! Yet, those responsible for the death of Christ were not let off the hook, for Peter urges those under conviction of sin (v38) to “Repent and be baptized…so that your sins may be forgiven”.
All this should surely lead us to humble adoration of our wonderful God whose perfection can include our imperfections in his perfect will and plan. And I think there is a further way in which we can apply this to our daily lives.
Has someone, at some time, hurt or offended you and you still hold a bit of a grudge, even though you have forgiven them or are trying to? Might it help if, as you pray for them, you make a point of praying for God to bring out of it some particular good to his praise and glory? Or, perhaps someone has cause to hold something against you; you’ve asked and received forgiveness from them, and from the Lord, but still, there is sorrow in your heart over the matter. Might it help if you asked the Lord to bring good, for his glory, out of even the wrong you may have done? Or perhaps you are rightly angry about something you’ve heard in the news, or your local community or church. Then wait on the Lord trusting that, in his gracious sovereignty, he intends it for good. That would be amazing – but he is an amazing God!
Your brother in Christ,