By Pastor Glenn Pease
Luther Burbank, the world famous scientist, worked for years to try and develop a black-petaled lily. He had several thousand experimental lily plants in his laboratory. A sudden cloudburst let loose a flood of rain that they were all washed away. William Stidger tells of sympathizing with him over what had happened, and Burbank said to him , "When anything like this happens I always remember a little couplet my mother use to quote:
From the day you are born
Till you ride in a hearse,
There's nothing that happens
Which couldn't be worse.
We have all sought to comfort ourselves at some point in life by recognizing this reality-it could be worse. It is almost always true, but still it is a negative comfort. Your life can be a mess, but others are even worse. If this is the best you got, then it has to be what you hang on to, but there is a better and more positive way to deal with the negatives of life, and that is to wait and see if what you thought was bad turns out to be good, and instead of being the worst, it may in reality be the best thing that could have happened.
That is what Paul is writing about to the Philippians. They are worried about Paul. They heard he was thrown in prison in Rome, and they have naturally concluded that his being arrested was not a good thing. They assumed that his ministry, which they supported, was now on hold, and Paul would be of no value in advancing the Gospel now. Paul says not to worry, for your gifts are not money down a hole. His being arrested turns out to actually help the advance of the Gospel, and give him a better ministry than the one he had planned.
The key to being an optimist is having the patience to wait and see what God will do with your negative experience. We so often jump to the conclusion that bad stuff is just that, and that alone. Sickness, trials, shipwrecks, stoning, and prison do not sound like prizes for which you would sell many lottery tickets. Nobody wants this sort of stuff in their life if they can avoid it. What Paul learned by his experience is that the bad stuff of life can be a way for God to use your life in a way that good things could not be used. Paul's being a prisoner led to his having a ministry to the palace guard of Nero, and some of these soldiers came to Christ, which never would have happened had he not become a prisoner. He never would have crossed their path had he not been arrested.
The fruit of Paul's ministry in prison was quite extensive, and he writes in 4:22, "All the saints send you greetings, especially those who belong to Caesar's household." Paul had Christian friends in the highest places, even the house of the Emperor. There is no reason to believe this ever could have happened if Paul had not been treated like a criminal. This is one of the answers to the question-why do bad things happen to good people? It is because bad things are often the only way to get us in touch with the right people, and to make us willing to go the way God wants us to go. In other words, bad things are tools God uses to get the job done in our lives. The point is not to rejoice in bad things, but to rejoice in the Lord who can use bad things for good goals we never would have achieved without the bad things.
Colonel Bringle of the Salvation Army became a very popular author. He came out of Harvard with honors, and began his ministry on a street corner in Boston. A drunken hooligan threw a brick at him and hit him in the head. He received a concussion that put him in the hospital for months. During his convalescence he wrote a book called Help To Holiness. He added four volumes, and these devotional aids sold in large numbers around the world. He said, "My brethren, if there had never been a brick, there never would have been a book." His bad experience opened up doors he never would have entered had they not compelled him to do so. Don't be so quick to label bad things as a curse. Wait to see if it might be a blessing. Even pray to that end.
Grace Crowell wrote a poem that says it all.
Yet as I live them, strange I did not know
Which hours were destined thus to live and shine,
And which among the countless ones would grow
To be, peculiarly, forever mine.
If I but wait, perhaps, this hour will be
Like silver in the sun, some day, to me!
Paul never dreamed that his days in prison would be days God would use him to let his light shine through all of history because of the epistles he would write there. We should pray, "Lord this is a bad day I am having, what good can you help me make of it for your glory?"
F. W. Borham, the great Australian preacher and author, tells of his pastor friend who was asked in Seminary to preach at a certain church one weekend when the pastor became ill. He had other plans with 2 of his best friends, and he did not want to go. He suggested other names and begged to be excused, but the Professor refused to let him off the hook. It was with deep anger that he submitted, and he went to the church in a negative mood, wanting to curse them rather than bless them. But all of his negative feelings were sheer waste, for he met the love of his life there, and his whole future was changed. Had he just waited to see what the end result would be, he could have saved himself a lot of grief. On of the most common phrases of the Bible is wait on the Lord, and the reason is, we need to learn to wait and see what God in his providence is going to do before we label bad things as a curse.
Bad things often turn out like Paul's being thrown in prison. They are stepping stones to fruitful blessings that could not be foreseen. God loves to work in all things, even bad things, for good. It is God's specialty, and wise is the Christian who has a wait and see attitude toward bad things. Because Paul had this attitude, he did not have to back off earlier testimony. Had he jumped the gun and written saying this is the worst thing to ever happen to me, and now my ministry is ruined, he would have been embarrassed to have to later say it was a great blessing. He waited to see what God would bring to pass. Jowett wrote, "The cloud, which appeared so ominous, brought a gracious shower; the restriction became the mother of a larger liberty." Prison bars and progress sound incompatible, but Paul just waited and sure enough, he saw his arrest lead to advance. It was a promotion to a higher ministry.
Why is it so important for Christians to grasp this reality that God can use evil for good? Because most of the unbelief in this world is base on this very issue. Most atheists are so because they say a good God cannot exist and permit all the terrible evil and suffering there is in this world. Many people do not believe in God because they feel they are better than God, for they would not permit the evil that exists if they had the power of God. So who needs a God who is less noble and compassionate than they are themselves? This would be a fairly powerful argument if the Bible did not reveal that God permits evil for a higher good. He permitted evil men to kill His Son for the sake of redeeming lost men. He permits men to become lost, because only those who are lost and then found again can be truly righteous and loyal to God forever. Satan was made perfect by God, but he fell because of pride. That will never happen to those redeemed by the Son of God. They will be eternally loyal, for they know they are what they are by the grace of God, and not by their own wisdom, power, or goodness. If God is going to have an eternal kingdom with assurance their will never be another rebellion, he had to permit a world with evil and free choice. This terrible fallen world is essential to the perfect world to come. God will bring good out of all its evil.
What good is evil? It is the opportunity to be a child of God. Paul says do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. Use evil to reveal your good. Let your light shine by showing the contrast of the good to the evil.
Where their is hate show love.
Where their is greed show generosity.
Where their is bitterness show forgiveness.
Where their is gloom show joy.
Where their is anxiety show peace.
Where their is violence show gentleness.
The point is, if there was no evil their would be no way to identify the good. The goal of history for the Christian is to bring good out of evil, so that evil does not win the war. Whenever you stop with evil, you let it win. The Christian is to overcome evil with good, and that means to go over, around, or through it, and if you can't avoid it no matter what, then seek to use it for some good and outwit it. The providence of God is God working in history to make bad events and circumstances lead to good consequences. Paul's imprisonment was bad for it was unjust and unfair, and caused by hate. God used their evil scheme to get the Gospel into the very household of Caesar. This was the beginning of Christianity becoming the official faith of the Roman Empire.
We often forget the idea of no pain, no gain philosophy, and we resist making anything bad for our children to endure, even when we should know that helps them to become stronger. Cheryl Forbes, a Christian journalist who worked for Zondervan Publishing House, wrote a book called Backdoor Blessings. Her first job was terrible. The boss was an older women who made her rewrite almost everything she submitted for publication. For a year she resented this snooty miss know-it-all. But slowly it dawned on her that she had become a good writer, and she owed it all to this boss she did not like. Had the boss been a good buddy, and let her get by with less than her best, she never would have attained the level of expertise she had reached. The one she thought was her enemy was really her secret friend.
In Acts 9:16 God said of Paul, "I will show him how much he must suffer for my name." Paul was chosen for a tough life, but out of all the evil he had to suffer, the world is still, an will forever, reaping the good fruit of his life. His thorn in the flesh was a pain he had to endure lest his pride caused him to lose his favored status with God. It is a principle of life that if someone you love will be a better person by what they suffer, then love will permit that suffering for the sake of that goal. If your child will be more loving as a person by being discipline, then in love you must inflect pain for the sake of this higher goal. If its a good enough principle for God, it is a good enough principle for us to practice in all loving relationships.
I had to hurt Lavonne over and over again this past week. I rubbed her damaged muscle to fight the inflammation. It was painful, but I did it willingly, for I knew it was the only way to get her back to health. Pain was the necessary path to pleasure. I hurt her on purpose for the sake of a positive goal. That was why Paul was in prison, and that is why a lot of negative things happen in life to all of us. The path of pain can lead to pleasure for those who wait to see where the path will lead.
Dr. Reuben Youngdahl, of Mt. Olivet Lutheran Church in Minneapolis, tells of his experience on a world tour. He was enjoying the white sands of the Indian Ocean at Durham, South Africa. He gave no thought to sunburn until it was too late, and he looked like a lobster. He was so sick in the night he considered going to the hospital. He had to spend the rest of his time there sitting in the shade watching others have fun. The day of his great suffering was the day the blue-battle fish infested the shore waters, and with their stingers sent over 1000 swimmers to the hospital. 150 were poisoned serious enough to be hospitalized. Several almost died. He could have been one, and so he realized that his misfortune was also his good fortune. His pain saved him from worse pain, or even death.
President Theodore Roosevelt lived before bifocals were invented. The result was he had to carry two pairs of glasses with him. One was for near vision, and the other for far vision. In his last campaign he was shot when he was in Milwaukee. The surgeon who examined his wound handed him his steel spectacle case and said that the bullet hit this case, and it was deflected from your heart, and saved your life. The president took the case with its shattered spectacle and said, I've always considered the burden and handicap of having to carry these two pairs of glasses, especially these heavy ones that were in this case, as a very sore one, and here at last they have been the means of saving my life." It was a long wait to see any good from that negative reality, but in the long run it turned out that his burden was a blessing.
Arturo Toscanini, the famous orchestra conductor, hated being handicapped with his near sightedness. At nineteen he was playing the cello in an orchestra, but he could not see the music on the stand, so he had to work harder than anyone, and memorize the music. One day the orchestra leader became ill, and suddenly Toscanini was the only member of the orchestra who knew the score. So he conducted it without the score, and got great responses from the audience. Had he not been near sighted he never would have been ready for this opportunity that lead him to become one of the great conductors of all time. The bad thing in his life became the best thing in his life for his career.
Charles Spurgeon tells the true story of how lies can be used to the glory of God. An evangelist was to preach in a small Italian town back when there was a great deal of hostility between Catholics and Protestants. The local priest told his people that this man who was coming was a worshipers of the devil. This scared many, and so they stayed away, but one depraved soul was interested in devil worship, so he went to hear the man. Nothing could have gotten him there but this lie. But when he came and heard of Jesus, the devil's conqueror, he became a convert to Jesus rather than the devil he was going to seek. God used a lie to bring this man to Jesus.
The point is not, that liars are good, or handicaps, or other bad things are of value. The whole negative aspect of a fallen world is just that-negative. It is bad, and not good, for it would all be taken into the eternal kingdom if it was good. But the fact is, it is all eliminated. We are calling black white, or evil good, for all bad things are bad. The point is, God is not limited to using good things for His purpose. He can use bad things as well, and it is to be one of the challenges of life to work with God to bring good out of evil.
What happened at Standard Oil is a good illustration in the world of industry. After oil is refined, a greasy black liquid is a waste product. They use to empty it at the river, but laws were passed to stop that. Then they dug a pit to get rid of it, but that failed. They tried to burn it, but that was almost a disaster. Finally, in desperation,they called in chemists from all over the country, and by accident they stumbled on to a way to make this massive nuisance into paraffin. This became one of the most profitable products of the refineries. This story is repeated in the history of dozens of waste products.
The point being, what is true for things is true also for events. Negatives, like the wastes of life and the bad events, can, by the grace of God be transformed into valuable products and good experiences. So don't waste anything in life, for what you feel is bad and worthless can become your most treasured event. Charles Kettering was cranking his car in the good old days, and it kicked on him and broke his arm. He thought, this is terrible. There must be an easier way to start a car. This painful event motivated him to go and invent the self-starter that has saved millions of others from suffering. One man's pain led to the greater pleasure of the masses.
That good can come out of evil does not mean there is nothing difficult to bear in the evil. Paul lost his freedom and had to be confined in chains and pay a heavy price for the good that came of it. It was not free but costly to be used of God this way. It would be just as hard, or even harder, however, if no good ever came of it. The hard part is made easier in knowing good will be the end result. Paul did eventually get executed, but he had all the joy of seeing the good that was coming because of his suffering. This is not always the case. The nuclear crisis at the reactor in Chernobyl is a good example. Many people died in that crisis, but it forced doctors to learn rapidly about the removal, treatment and transplant of bone marrow. They had to act quickly, and they learned by trial and error, but the end result was they learned what will benefit all mankind. One of the doctors made this comment.
"We were like Star Trek. We were going
where mankind had never gone before,
but we were being dragged there reluctantly.
Now, as a result, we have a whole new way to
deal with an even cure cancer." The same
chaotic energy that killed so many at
Chernobyl may now result in a procedure
of donor and autologous bone marrow
transplants that will save thousands of lives.
This new order was born of loss and chaos.
So often in history terrible things for the few can be tremendous benefits for the many. We are among the millions who are benefiting from Paul's imprisonment. Because of it,we have all the wisdom of this letter he wrote in prison. Paul suffered for your pleasure and mine. God used the bad things Paul had to endure to give good things to us. It is one of the ways of God in history to show that He is in control even though man, by his sin and folly, is perpetually doing evil and harmfully things. God is in the business of reversing the effects of man's folly.
What we need to learn from all of this is not to jump to conclusions, and write off bad experiences as total loss. Ask God to help you use the bad as a stepping stone to some good. If God loves to bring good out of evil, then don't waste evil, and let it be evil only, but seek for ways it can lead to good. A most dramatic and radical illustration of this comes from the diary of Ann Traylor, a servant girl coming to America from England. She was raped on board the ship. It was so devastating she wanted to die, but fortunately for her a Quaker lady named Henrietta Best was there, and she had been raped decades before by French soldiers. Now let's make this clear-this was a totally evil experience-it was pure evil. But the point is, it was not wasted, but used. Henrietta came to Ann and used her evil experience to bring comfort to her. Ann wrote in her diary-
"She could say to me, "Hush, it happened to me,
too." And those words saved my life and my
reason. What resurrected me, were her love
and her understanding, which, clearly, were
the fruit of her own suffering; she could identify
with me without pious pretense. When she
consoled me and took me in her arms, I ex-
perienced the presence of God."
The evil of the past was still evil, and those who did it will be judged, but good was brought out of the evil by a wise use of it. Had Paul laid around his cell swearing at the guards, his evil experience would not have been used for good. He had to be an impressive witness to his joy in Christ in spite of his suffering, or he would have seen no fruit from his evil experience. Bad things don't lead to good by their nature. They only root like fruit and get worse. They can only lead to good as we learn to use them wisely.
The point here is not to say let's all get arrested and see what good can come of it. We are to avoid all evil, and try to prevent every bad thing in life. But when we cannot, and we have to suffer in this fallen world, let's not waste it, and jump to the conclusion that it is of no value. Let's work with God, and seek to overcome evil with good, and rob the devil of his pleasure. Robert Schuller in his popular book, Life's Not Fair But God Is Good, deals with this issue, and gives many marvelous illustrations. One is of Serena Young, a Los Angeles Orthopedic Surgeon. As a two year girl in Taiwan, this Chinese toddler contracted polio, and lost the use of her legs. She was in and out of the hospital until she was 21, but never regained the use of her legs.
She was a bitter young woman. She was angry at God for allowing this to happen to her. She started to search in high school for some way to make sense of this, which seems so senseless, and this is what she discovered; Rom. 8:28, "And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have called according to His purpose."She wanted her handicap to be used for good, and so she began to pray that God would use her tragedy for something good. She stopped her grieving and accepted her disability. She decided she wanted to be an orthopedic surgeon. She was told that it was crazy, but she felt it was God's calling, and though the training was so hard she wanted to quit at times.
she persevered, and now has a very fulfilling career helping people deal with their handicaps. The Los Angeles Times had a picture of her propped up on crutches leaning over an operating table giving help and hope to others, who like her, had been dealt a bad hand. She was not wasting her bad experience, but was using it for good, and for the glory of God, whom she praises for helping her see bad things can be used for His purposes. May God help us all learn this lesson, and strive by God's grace to bring good out of evil.