God works all things for the good of His people. It’s a simple enough truth, but we frequently have trouble believing it. Often the situation, from our perspective, seems irredeemable. Some people even get angry with God. I’d like to do some case studies in Scripture to show how God can redeem any circumstance with three people who surely felt their world was collapsing around them.
First, though, I’d like to set the stage by giving you a quote that could sum up the feelings of the three saints I’m going to be talking about. Emperor Franz Josef of Austria-Hungary famously lamented, “Nothing has been spared me in this life.” It’s hard not to agree with his statement. His brother Maximilian had been executed by the forces of Benito Juarez in Mexico, his own beloved army had resoundingly lost two wars, his only son and heir had shot himself and his teenage mistress, and his wife, who had not particularly returned his affection, had been stabbed to death. That last event was the occasion of his plaintive exclamation.
First in chronological order, look at Job. Here’s someone particularly singled out by Satan for suffering. He clearly endured more than Franz Joseph. In an instant, he lost all his children and his wealth. His wife was taunting him to apostatize, and his friends said he already had. At times he accused God of injustice, but he never fully gave up hope that a redeemer/mediator would intercede for him. Prayers or statements of hope frequently interrupt his proclamations of innocence and God’s injustice. God humbled him by challenging him from a whirlwind, but when Job repented, God gave him double what he had had before. He lived to see 140 years and four generations of descendants, definitely more than he would have enjoyed if God had never tested him and found him (more or less) faithful.
Next, there’s the infamous case of David and Bathsheba. In a series of crimes so heinous the prophet Nathan likened it to a rich man stealing and eating a poor man’s only pet, David first committed adultery with Bathsheba and then had her husband murdered so he could marry her. David soon had to deal with a whole mess of consequences. Besides the agonizing guilt, God promised He was going to chastise David for this. David eventually has to flee for his life when his son Absalom rebels against him and humiliates him by sleeping with his concubines in front of all Israel, and he almost sees his kingdom torn apart by another rebellion. When David declared that the rich man in Nathan’s parable would have to make fourfold restitution for the stolen lamb, God seems to have taken him at his word. First David’s son with Bathsheba dies, and then Absalom kills David’s firstborn, Amnon, for raping Amnon’s half-sister Tamar (she was Absalom’s full sister). Absalom himself dies when Joab defeats his rebel forces, much to David’s grief. Lastly, just before his death, David’s son Adonijah attempts to steal the throne and eventually winds up being executed for it- four lost sons in all.
So what possible good came of this sordid mess? Well, first and foremost, no one can say, “Look at what kind of sin God is willing to tolerate!” That’s mostly why God punished David so severely. For David, though, good came from even this. God explicitly declared his love for David’s next son with Bathsheba, Solomon. In Solomon, David had an heir he could take comfort would accomplish his great dream of building a temple for God. Countless worshipers would have a magnificent temple in which to delight in God because of David’s liaison with Bathsheba. In the grander scheme of things, how many Christians have taken comfort from the extent of the forgiveness God extended to David? If He can forgive adultery and murder, surely He can forgive you. Meanwhile, to help Christians experience that forgiveness, David wrote the definitive work on repentance because of this sin in Psalm 51.
For this last one, I hope you’ll bear with a little speculation and inference. I’m thinking of the Israelite slave girl in II Kings 5. We don’t know much about her as she plays a very small part in the story, but what we’re told about her background tells us she experienced unspeakable trauma as a child when the Arameans carried her off as a slave. From being a (presumably) free woman among the people of God, she has been reduced to the property of a pagan. She has to serve people who oppress her own people. We don’t know if the raiders raped her or killed her family in front of her eyes, but slave raids are never gentle matters. She probably spent the time following her capture among a strange people anxiously wondering what would become of her.
So how does she react to this horrifying turn of events? Well, the one thing we know she does is love her enemies. When Naaman, the commander of the forces who robbed her of her liberty, falls ill with leprosy, she doesn’t gloat secretly over the hardship of her foe. Instead she refers him to the prophet Elisha, who she claims can heal him. Well, to make a long story short, Elisha does heal him, and Naaman becomes a Christian.
So what came of the girl? We don’t know, but I expect it was rewarding enough. Naaman was overwhelmed with gratitude to Elisha and wanted to make him rich for his miracle. Surely some of that gratitude poured over to the slave girl when he returned home. One things seems likely: the little girl probably spent the rest of her life in a more devout household than she would have if she had stayed in depraved Israel.
More frequently, I expect, we don’t get to see how God is working good through things. There are case studies for this too. Heman the Ezrahite’s only Psalm, Number 88, is the only psalm that does not contain a note of hope and trust in God. He describes how miserable he’s been since he was born and believes he is close to death. Maybe God turned his fortunes around like Job, or maybe he had to wait until he got to Heaven to truly enjoy some happiness. The point is, we know Heman is happy now, and presumably God was as pleased with him as he was with Job for remaining faithful in great trial and that he’s being more blessed in Heaven because of it.
Or consider Jeremiah. Here’s someone who had one of the most difficult jobs of all time. Living among a people who outraged him with their iniquity but whom he loved nonetheless, he had the appointment to warn them of judgment when very few of them would listen. God did not allow him to marry or have a family in a culture that almost obsessively esteemed that, and frequently he was in peril for his life from his enraged hearers. He had to endure all the horrors of the Babylonian siege of Jerusalem, where food ran out and mothers were eating their children, and then he saw the city he loved burned to the ground, which prompted the Book of Lamentations. We last see him carried against his will to Egypt by people who still despise him. (Why they made him come with them I don’t know- maybe they were cynically trying to use him as a human shield in case God fulfilled His threats of judgment on those who went to Egypt against his orders).
It’s hard to see any good in this for Jeremiah. Certainly he had trouble seeing it since at one point he was calling down God’s curse on the person who didn’t abort him when he was born. You can still see some good in it, though. God gave a vivid picture through Jeremiah’s sermons of things He hates so we can avoid them, and He also gave prophecies about the Messiah that the Gospel writers use to prove He is Jesus. Like Heman, Jeremiah is blissfully happy now.
God has promised to wipe away all His people’s tears. Whatever you haven’t been spared in this life, He’ll repay double in the life to come.