You meant it for evil (1)

This is a continuation of the "problem of evil" posts, and I have changed the title because we are changing gears. So far we have reasoned through the atheist's complaint and found that in truth, the problem of evil (the wily atheist may say "problem of pain") doesn't actually disappear when we snap our fingers at God to say He should have invented a universe without any suffering. If the complaint dismisses God as a cause, we are left with what the problem them leaves for us to do about it.

And in asking that question, we come up with massive shortfalls, philosophically -- like why 60 million people should be willing to lose their lives in a world war to stop the deaths of 6 million people of a small ethnic group. We discover that even atheism will admit that it turns out that for us some things are worth suffering for -- and that somehow, one can self-determine to suffer for the benefit of something other than himself.

But if that's true existentially for man, why would it not be true for God as well? By that I mean if man can show that some suffering is justified, why can God Himself not thereby show that some suffering is justified?

And before I dive into God's case, let me strongly recommend John Piper's latest book, Spectacular Sins: And Their Global Purpose in the Glory of Christ. I got my review copy from Crossway about 6 weeks ago and left it on an airplane, so may God be willing to use that book for somebody's good. But I bought a second copy, and re-read it, and while it is not necessarily a theodicy, it is a strong case from Scripture regarding the biblical understanding of God's purposes in suffering.

But in that book, of course one of Piper's key examples is the case of Joseph, son of Jacob. Joseph was the oldest son of Jacob's favorite wife, but sadly he was also the second-to-youngest os Jacob's 12 sons. And in that, Jospeh's older brothers were fiercely jealous of him and intended to kill him.

BTW, I'm telling you this story because this is one of the stories God tells us in His book about what kind of universe he's running here -- and the atheist needs to at least listen to the story even if he's not willing to buy the whole thing from start to finish.

So the 10 older brothers determine to kill Joseph -- but after throwing him in a hole, they have a small change of heart and determine to rather just tell their father he is dead and instead sell the boy into slavery. The man-traders just so happen to be walking by, and they fish the young man out and hand him other to them -- and that's it.

See: they intended evil to Joseph. In fact, they did evil to Joseph without any qualifications: they sold their own brother into slavery, and then told their father he was killed by a wild animal -- and in fact dipped his cloak in goat's blood to show that plainly, he was torn to bits.

They intended evil to Joseph, and they did what they intended to do. But something fascinating happens to Joseph over the course of the next 20-or-so years: Joseph becomes the second most powerful man in the whole world -- and he does so because his brothers sold him into slavery.

Let's not get confused here: Joseph doesn't scheme to get power in order to make revenge on his brothers. The slave-trading doesn't make him some kind of Count of Monte Christo who spends his life trying to forge justification for himself. Rather, if Joseph had never been sold into slavery, he would have never been in a position to become what he became.

And in order to do that, Joseph had to get framed for rape and go to prison.

We'll pick up our story about what men intended, and thereby what God intended, next time.