How Do Good and Evil Fit Into God’s Plan?
To experience victorious living, writes Norman Grubb, we must see all things as God sees them. In the following excerpt from The Deep Things of God, Norman presents God’s unifying principle underlying all of life’s circumstances that unlocks the positive attitude of faith that moves mountains.
Moving on now into the problems of daily life, I want to underline the attitude of faith which unties every conceivable knot, and leaps over every high wall. It is really only a reiteration of what we have already seen, for faith is always just faith; but it concerns the problem of our divided outlook.
It is obvious that life is a mixture. As we have already seen, both good and evil are to be seen everywhere, in nature, in man, in politics, in industry. We never meet with one without the other: health–disease: prosperity–adversity: riches–poverty: love–hate: kindness–cruelty: life–death. We meet with these right in our personal lives; in our own hearts, in the family, in business, in church fellowship. Now it is human nature in us to want to embrace the one and flee from the other. But we can’t solve life’s problems that way. We can’t escape the inescapable. Victorious living, indeed, means the ability to handle life’s adversities as successfully, redemptively, and with as much understanding as life’s prosperities. To do this, once again, we must go to the root of things. We must see all things as God sees them. It must be God looking through our eyes at our (His) problems, God thinking His thoughts in our minds concerning them, and God working in us to will and to do of His good pleasure.
Let us go back once again to the beginning. We have our book of revelation–the whole Bible–so it is not difficult to trace the revealed mind and ways of God. He has not left us in bewilderment. His purpose and plan of grace is plain from Genesis to Revelation: all is centred in His Son. He was before all things, all was created by Him, and all is for His own pleasure (Rev. 4:11i). But He also foreknew the long, long trail to that final consummation, when He will gather together in one all things in Christ, in the new heavens and new earth wherein will dwell righteousness.
The Neccessity of Paired Opposites
We have already seen that nothing exists without its opposite: to say yes to one thing is to say no to its opposite: to love one thing is to hate its opposite: light can only shine visibly in contrast to darkness: life “swallows up mortality.” But when the Creator in His purpose of love and grace brought into existence His own “opposite,” created beings in His own likeness, that their emptiness should be swallowed up by His fulness, their weakness manifest His strength, their darkness radiate His light, He foreknew and foresaw what might and did happen–that a great rift would appear in the harmony of His universe. As all negatives are the hidden, submissive partners to their positives, as the female to the male, as minors to majors, in the union of the two all life in thought and action being reproduced, so were we to be as the created to our Creator, as bride to Bridegroom, as servants to Master, as sons to Father.
But as free selves, we could do what no other pair of opposites could do, we could refuse to keep this “first estate” of creature to Creator; we could aspire to be as God, the minor as the major, the darkness as light, the weakness as strength; and we could upset the equilibrium of our world. This is what God foresaw that we should do, and Lucifer and his angels before us. It meant the appearance of a whole principle of evil not in existence before, a negative that defied its positive and would replace it, a darkness that would be as light, an evil that would claim to be the good, a devil (and man) who would be God. The prophet boldly said of God that He “created evil” (Is. 45: 7), and it is true in the sense that a created being has the potentiality, the freedom to refuse to keep its own estate, and in refusing, to bring into manifestation the negative kingdom of evil as a power, “the power of darkness.”
This was the warning God gave Adam and Eve: Beware of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Good they knew already, for all that God had created He pronounced to be “very good.” The not-good (evil), the hidden opposite to good, was unknown to them. Let them beware: the existence of such an actuality as evil (in Lucifer and his hosts) was there before their eyes in the symbol of that tree. But into the trap they fell. No longer was the world within and without a world of pure goodness. Another spirit was working in them, the negative spirit of disobedience, infecting them as it infected all nature. There was not only the Yes of God’s goodness around them, but the No of God’s wrath on evil; and life had become a dichotomy, the clash of arms resounded through nature, the kingdom of light and the kingdom of darkness in mortal combat.
But both are still God’s kingdoms, the kingdom of His Yes, the kingdom of His No; the kingdom of His grace, the kingdom of His wrath. We quickly begin to lose our way, if we are deluded into thinking that the foes in this war are of equal status. That never has been, nor could be. Major and minor, positive and negative, and so on down the line of all pairs of opposites, can never ultimately move from their created relationships, no matter how a satanic or human self may try to inflate itself from a nothing to a something. It is only bluff, self-deceit, false imagination, although it may and has caused all temporary upsets and discords in our world, and ends in an actual sphere of outer darkness for those who continue in it. No one has ever been on the throne of the universe but the perfect God Himself, perfect in foresight, perfect in plan and action, perfect in power, perfect in love.
Therefore to Him, and this is all-important to us, there never has been an unmanageable division, a dichotomy. He works all things after the counsel of His own will, evil as well as good. Evil serves His purposes as much as good. The devil is His agent.
God Uses Evil
The Bible makes it plain that, not only did He foresee the invasion of evil, but that He actively intervened to use it for His glory. Of us men in our evil ways it says that He hardens us (for we are all Pharaohs by nature), and is glorified in the hardening and its consequences (Rom. 9:17): not indeed that He may destroy us, but that by making us sample the fruits of our rebellion, as many as possible of us may repent of our ways and be saved, for “He hath concluded us all in disobedience, that He may have mercy on all.” Of the inanimate creation travailing in pain, we have already pointed out that it is God Himself who has subjected it to its present condition, not of its own volition, but in deliberate anticipation of the glorious deliverance to come (Rom. 8:20). There is then this connection here, in the whole creation, between experience gained through suffering and subsequent glory, a lesson which we humans can learn intelligently and accept willingly. Good is faced with evil, and only by conquest of it becomes established goodness.
This is how God is establishing His eternal Kingdom which shall never be moved (Heb. 12:28, 29). He Himself has planned and produced a creation which could and did go into reverse. It split wide open the positive goodness of all things and exposed the hidden opposite, bitter to sweet, lie to truth, hate to love, selfishness to unselfishness.
God’s Plan of Restoration
And how did God meet this revolt? By Himself becoming the opposite to Himself–God becoming man, the Strong becoming the weak, Spirit taking flesh, and finally the Sinless becoming the sinner, Life becoming death. As captain (pioneer, trailcutter) of our salvation, He led the way by being perfected in the sufferings we suffer and by conquest of them. God tasted the duality of good and evil, tempted in all points as we are, yet without sin. But in being tempted he was totally victorious, in suffering His faith never failed, “faithful to Him that appointed him in all His house”: and tasting the final form of evil, death for every man, He drank the cup to the dregs in the perfect obedience of faith, and thus destroyed in His resurrection him that had the power of death, that is the devil, and delivered his bondslaves from the fear of him. That is to say, He deliberately embraced evil, the worst evil Satan has it in his power to inflict. He permitted it to strike Him with all its force, and indeed to overcome Him in the flesh. He died at the hands of the evil one.
But He died in the inner triumph of faith. This is revealed to us in Heb. 5, where we read that at Gethsemane He obeyed His Father to the limit, but in accepting the coming Calvary He first prevailed with Him by strong crying and tears that He should be saved out of death, “and was heard” because of His filial faith. By this means, by obedience and faith, He turned the evil back onto its perpetrator, and instead of being destroyed Himself, by His resurrection from the dead He destroyed the destroyer. He turned evil to good–by faith; and as the first pioneer on the road of salvation which we tread (Heb. 2:10), He made a way of faith possible for all of us who will go through, believing Him in like “evil” circumstances. For us also, then, our evil will be our good. That is why in the same chapter, the writer says that the spiritually mature will, by going victoriously through life’s experiences, learn to “discern both evil and good.” When we are in spiritual infancy we judge things by outward appearances. If a situation is pleasant, it is good; if unpleasant, evil. But as we grow in the Spirit, we learn that all that comes to us is good if accepted in faith, and the only evil in the world for us is our inner unbelieving attitudes. Good and evil are not in our circumstances, but in ourselves, according to our reaction to them.
Enduring Faith: Job
The Bible gives us classic examples of this. The most famous, of course, is Job. He was the outstanding man of faith of his generation, for God called him a “perfect and upright man,” and God says that of no man unless his faith can be counted unto him for righteousness. But to him material prosperity was the obvious evidence of the favour of God. Then the tempests blew. Storm on storm swept over him. His faith bent beneath them, but never snapped. Some of the most glorious sayings of a faith under the cross were wrung from his tortured heart. He began in the fulness of faith: “The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.” But faith deteriorated, as always, through controversy, though still appearing in flashes through the thunder clouds: “Though He slay me, yet will I trust in Him”: “I know that my Redeemer liveth, and that He shall stand at the latter day on the earth: and though after my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God”: “When he hath tried me, I shall come forth like gold.”
It was a grim faith, an enduring rather than enjoying faith, magnificent, set by the Holy Ghost in James as the standard of endurance for believers of all time; but it lacked one transforming element: it was not an understanding faith. He had to fight his way through blindfold. Perhaps he could have known earlier, if he had “broken” earlier. Who knows? It takes long enough for the Lord to break any of us, for we only break when we listen to His voice.
The Lord spoke to Job in these closing scenes of the book, and gave him such a revelation of His majesty that Job was in the dust before Him; he had heard of Him before; now he saw Him. And what did he see? One who works all after the counsel of His own will, evil as well as good; for it was given to him to see and to record for us what lay behind his horrible trials–God using Satan, even stirring up Satan to bring external trials on Job so severe that all the watching hosts of heaven and all believers through history could learn the lesson: that God can implant such a faith and love for Himself in a fallen human that it transcends all that the world can offer and all that the devil can inflict (1 Pet. 1:6-8). That revelation was of more value to Job and to us all than all the earthly blessings restored to him. There once for all is it recorded for us that Satan is still a servant of the Almighty–which is the very key to this problem of good and evil.
Triumph of Faith: Joseph
Joseph is another famous example. How far he clearly saw God’s purposes through the years of shocking adversity, and equally through the first years of his fabulous prosperity, we do not know. We do know that he never lost the inner certainty that it was God who had given him those youthful dreams, for if he had, he never could, years after, have met the sudden challenge of the butler’s and baker’s perplexity over their dreams with the statement, “Do not interpretations belong to God? Tell me them, I pray you”; nor could he, two years later, have faced Pharaoh and his incredulous court in that dramatic scene, when Pharaoh told him that he had heard he was an interpreter of dreams, and without a moment’s hesitation he answered, “It is not in me; God shall give Pharaoh an answer of peace.”
But certainly it all came clear to him when, in another moving moment, he saw his ten brethren standing before him, and “remembered the dreams which he dreamed of them,” and later quelled their guilty fear by exclaiming, “Be not angry with yourselves, that ye sold me hither; for God did send me before you to preserve life…God sent me before you to preserve you a posterity in the earth…so now it was not you that sent me hither, but God”; and once again when he was dying, “Fear not…as for you, ye thought evil against me; but God meant it for good.”
Here is God’s perfection, as we come out of the tunnel of our investigation. “The tree of knowledge of good and evil.” The divided outlook. Life, instead of being one good whole, has fallen into two opposing parts; the pairs of opposites have become enemies instead of friends and partners. Therefore life in the human must always be a tension, a constant propounding of problems with no adequate solution, a constant oscillation between the pleasurable and the painful. But when we raise our sights from the human to the divine, the whole picture changes. All started with God, all ends with God, and there is only One with whom He has to do: from eternity to eternity all is centred in Christ. Therefore whatever intervenes in history, whether pleasant or unpleasant, must be caught up into the stream of His purposes of grace in Christ. If the devil appears on the scene, then the devil must be His agent. If the fall of man adds to the chaos, then we learn that He had already foreseen that and the fallen first Adam was to be only a type in reverse (Rom. 5:14) of the last redeeming Adam.
This same Christ would Himself embrace the consequences of sin, atone for it, conquer it, and then produce out of the wreckage of fallen humanity a new race of sons to occupy the highest position in the universe, to share the throne of Him who is made “higher than the heavens,” better than the angels, seated at the right hand of the majesty on high, “the fulness of Him that filleth all in all.” Evil, then, would be to Christ an agency for good; not that evil comes from God, or is anything but
evil; but faith utilizes it for good, because faith understands that God reigns in the darkness as well as in the light (Ps. 139:12), and that God fulfils His own purpose
through adverse circumstances which expose to man his inability, and spur him on to the receiving faith which liberates God to work.
Therefore adversities of all kinds are sent from God, purposed by God, each as it exactly suits our condition, that we may learn and re-learn that “when I am weak, then I am strong.” Good and evil thus cease to be divided to the eye of faith; they are reunited by the alchemy of the cross and resurrection, where self-reactions have died, and the living Christ deliberately furthers His victorious and redemptive plans through the assaults of His enemies.
Imperfection Points To Perfection
Looking, then, from heaven downwards rather than earth upwards, and realizing that God has always been nothing but the God of perfection, working all things after the counsel of His own will, we can see the whole problem of our chaotic world from a totally different point of view. The fact that God foreknew Satan’s and man’s disobedience and the resulting chaos, and had prepared the perfect remedy for it before it ever happened, gives us our key. Judgment and punishment there had to be, but He only ever predestined One to feel the full weight of His wrath, His only begotten Son. For all mankind He had only one purpose, to restore them in His Son to their original predestined perfection, and with them the whole fallen creation.
All, therefore, that happens to man in his present fallen condition has its own definite purpose–not of judgment, but of restoration. Suffering and sorrow is the will of God in this sense, that disobedience must have its due penalties and consequences, or there could be no ethical or rational basis to God’s government; but the purpose, in grace, is not penal, but redemptive. Imperfection in all forms is God’s finger pointing to perfection.
It makes a tremendous difference to our outlook and actions when we realize this, for we learn to recognize that weakness, shortages, failures, disappointments, all that is short of the ideal, which are in God’s order for this age, are for one purpose only: as parables, as figures, as signposts, pointing to the hidden sufficiency: types pointing to prototypes. It is the dialectical relationship: if there are weaknesses, there is strength: if shortages, supply: if failures, success. Thus we read that Adam was “the figure of him that was to come” (Rom. 5:14)–the first Adam, the failure, pointed to the necessity in God’s purpose of perfection, of a last Adam, the fulfilment, and to the certainty that that Perfect One was already there in the invisible, ready to be revealed in due time.
In this same way all the earthly appearances of things are types and shadows; for in God, the Perfect One, the Creator, who could create nothing but perfection, it is obvious that all which falls short of perfection in our world is not in its original state, but has fallen from it, from sufficiency to lack, from health to disease, from order to disorder, and has to be restored. The ceremonial worship of the tabernacle is an example of this shadow-substance relationship; the pattern was already there in the invisible, given to Moses on the Mount, from which he made the earthly copy; the writer to the Hebrews called it the shadow of which the Christ-to-come was the substance. Jesus on earth saw all things in this light. Every earthly object was to Him the figure of its heavenly reality. Bread–the living bread: water…the living water: birth…the new birth: light…the light of the world: life …everlasting life. Human events and activities were all symbols to Him of eternal events and realities, and He used them as parables: the sower, the husbandman, the prodigal, the pearl, the mustard seed, sheep, coins, fish….
Problems: Our Summons to Faith
What practical application has this for our daily lives? An important one. Every human situation of need with which we are faced is a voice from God saying to us: “That points to My fulness: that imperfection to My perfection: that need to My supply: that perplexity to My solution.” The whole of life in its fallen state is a great finger-post pointing the way from the imperfect human to the perfect divine. But that would not be of much help if we were left with pointing signposts and an impassable gulf, only to be bridged in a future life. No. Jesus incarnate, crucified, resurrected and ascended has altered that. Grace has already bridged the gulf: from heaven to earth and back from earth to heaven. The result is that God permits needs in our lives that He may now supply them in Christ. That is the point. Needs, shortages, problems are summonses to faith.
That is why they are God’s will. They are His necessary way of compelling us flesh-bound humans to recognize our earthly limitations, to be dissatisfied with them, to seek the way to transcend them, and to become agents of redemptive faith. There He stands just the other side of the barrier, beckoning to us and saying, “I am the answer, I am the supply. I have come to you in Christ. Receive Me in this situation.” For need is a shadow. And what casts the shadow? The light. No light, no shadow. The light of God’s fulness shines on this world. The oppositions of Satan, to which we add the sin of unbelief, have interposed themselves and cast the shadows of the lacks of this life. Christ has come to destroy that intervening barrier. Then to those who believe Him, it is no longer a barrier but a bluff–a challenge to faith.
That may or may not mean that the actual material situation is changed. Very often it is. But it means that we look at all situations with God’s eyes. We see that in reality they are His situations, into which He has deliberately put us that He might be glorified in them. Therefore before we call, He is already answering, because He Himself has instigated this actual situation with His answer all prepared. Our calling is His stirring of us to feel the need and recognize that here is a situation in which God is going to do something. Our action then is to call on Him, in other words, to take the attitude of faith. Faith means that we turn our attention from the need to the Supplier who is already supplying that need, and who allowed the need because He intends to supply it to His glory. Therefore our calling on Him is our seeing Him and praising Him and confessing Him before men, and awaiting the manifestation of the supply.
Illustration: Paul’s “Thorn”
Paul’s thorn in the flesh is a perfect illustration of this. Though a “messenger of Satan,” God sent it, for it was “given” him for a deliberate purpose–to keep him from the subtle inroads of self-esteem, leading to self-reliance. The trial was deep and prolonged (probably increasing blindness). At first he thought that the One who had done physical miracles in other bodies through him would do the same in him. But no. After three separate appeals, we may suppose with intervals between each, God’s word came clear to him. He was to prove the power of God in his weakness, not from it; not by deliverance from it, but by constant ability to transcend it. The Supplier had met his need–this time as abounding spiritual supply overflowing an ever-present physical need. A seeking faith became a praising faith, and reaching out over all the unending trials and sufferings of his pioneer life, he gathered them up in one embrace of praise and thanks for all of them (2 Cor. 12:10), and especially for the blessedness of that basic lesson for all time: “when I am weak, then am I strong.”
And, far more important, when his own lesson had been well-learned, his testimony has transmitted the secret, even more clearly than Job himself, to millions of succeeding generations. Our trials are God’s trials, given us for a
purpose, exactly suited to us. Our lacks are God’s lacks, our perplexities are God’s perplexities. Before the trials, God has already prepared the deliverance and sends us the trials that He may manifest Himself through them. The trial is to stimulate faith, and faith is seeing Him who is invisible. As we do this, in praise and expectation, He gives the answer. It may or may not be the kind of deliverance we anticipate. But it will be what we can recognize and receive with joy as His answer, and to which we can testify. The need will have been wholly met by His supply in His way, and, as a pebble thrown into a pond, the widening circles of the testimony will do their redemptive work far beyond our knowledge.
Reconciliation of Negative and Positive
We give negatives positive names, as does the Bible, because they are real entities; but at the same time, as we have already said, by doing so we tend to obscure their real condition as negatives. Basically, evil is merely not-good: bitter is not-sweet: hate is not-love: man is not-God; and so on. And when we see all negatives in their true character, we see this vital fact–that they are merely the reverse side of their positives. They are not meant to be anything apart from their positives. They have no rightful existence except as minor to major, female to male, no to yes, each by union with its positive giving distinctive birth and form and character to some manifestation of its positive, as do the minor to the major keys in music.
Therefore, insofar as they have been infected and inflamed by a contrary spirit and thus removed out of their proper place in the eternal economy of God, He who is the Positive, the All in all, must necessarily find means to restore them. This He has done in what the Bible calls “the reconciliation of all things” (Col. 1:20; Rom. 8:19-21). He will not finally permit any portion of His creation to remain “out of temperature”: He “will gather together in one all things in Christ.”
It is not, of course, material things which are to blame or which have gone wrong, except insofar as they share in “the corruption which is in the world through lust.” Things are but the servant of spirit; it is the negative spirit, free, intelligent, deliberate, which has done the damage.
We have already seen how God has effected this reconciliation through His Son, but we need to note not only the fact, but also the way in which He did it, for it is the only principle by which this contrary spirit can be dealt with throughout human history.
How Christ Reconciled Evil and Good
First, in the natural He accepted vicariously all that comes to human beings in this distorted world, all the trials, privations, weaknesses that flesh is heir to, and all the persecutions right up to the final stroke the negative spirit of evil could deal him–the death on the cross. He was “crucified through weakness.” In the natural he did not resist evil. He went further than that: He positively accepted evil as the predetermined will of the Father. He swallowed it in its most virulent forms.
But what broke His body and agonized His soul, could not touch His spirit. There neither Satan nor the threats and deeds of cruel men, nor evil in any form, could get any footing. “The prince of this world cometh, but hath nothing in Me.” In that inner sanctuary dwelt only the living God fulfilling His own reconciling purposes through the yieldedness, faith and obedience of the One who would walk the saving way. He was “put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit.” That vicarious process by which, as the representative human, He first embraced all that the negative spirit has loaded upon humanity even unto death, but then was raised again by the Positive Spirit as the One whom death could not hold, meant death to that negative spirit in all who join themselves to Him by receptive faith. Through death, He destroyed (or literally, annulled) him that had the power of death, that is the devil, and delivered them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage.
Released from the negative spirit, all negative conditions fall back into their rightful place for those in whom Christ lives: the bitter brings out the flavour of the sweet, light shines out of darkness, mortality is swallowed up by life, evil is overcome by good. That is to say, what comes to us in the natural as trial, sorrow, suffering, privation, persecution, and we feel as such in our bodies and souls and know the sharpness of them, in our spirits we see to be, not objectionable invasions of something contrary and frustrating, but the way in which we “bear about in our body the dying of the Lord Jesus.” He again is dying in us (His human body) in all kinds of situations, and He is rising victorious in us. His life is manifest to all in our mortal flesh (in our visible enjoyment of the unenjoyable): the integrating victory of the Spirit is seen in us as we “take pleasure” in things which are the opposite to natural pleasure–“infirmities, reproaches, necessities, persecutions, distresses” (2 Cor. 12:10); evil is servant to good, hate the seedplot of love.
And inner integration in unpleasant situations has far wider repercussions than the personal. It is the continuation of Christ’s vicarious sufferings and saving resurrection (Col. 1:24). Christ still dies and rises again for the world through His spiritual Body, as He did in His earthly one. That does not mean that Christ’s unique redemptive work for the world was not completed or could in any least degree be effected through any body except His own, conceived by the Holy Ghost and born of the Virgin Mary, the Jesus of history who was crucified at an exact location, buried in a known tomb, and viewed in His resurrection body by many witnesses. But it does mean that the application of His triumph worldwide through the succeeding centuries, in the gathering out of a people to His Name, in the building of them up in their most holy faith, is always and only by this one death and resurrection process, the way of the Cross, though not that one unique work of the Cross.
Intercession: Christ as Us–Reconciling Today
It is constantly the Christ who lives in the believer walking in us the way of vicarious death and resurrection in every one of millions of situations and spheres of service, right along the line from the mother with her family, to the worker in his job, to the missionary on his field. The point so hard to learn and relearn in our Christian immaturity is God’s way of the cross: confronted with the necessity of a world that must die to sin and rise to righteousness, the One who need not so die and rise went that way first Himself; and by that vicarious act released death and resurrection power through Himself for a world. “Death worketh in us, but life in you.”
This is the way of the intercessor. Jesus “poured out His soul unto death,” and so, it says, “made intercession for the transgressors” (Is. 53:12). Because of that act of death-intercession, God poured His resurrection life both into the Saviour’s dead body and through Him into all who receive Him. The fruit of His intercession was the life-giving Spirit sent into the world, saving to the uttermost them that come unto God by Him. And every life of fruitful service has this at its roots: the corn of wheat must die, if the world is to feed on its fruit. We say, “