When bad things happen, can God use them to accomplish good?
A key to forgiving your offender is realizing that God can work through your suffering to accomplish His purposes in your life. Ultimately, God is in control. He allows the good and bad things in life, and we can trust Him to work all things together for good in the lives of those who love Him. (See Romans 8:28.)
This understanding enabled many people in Scripture to forgive their offenders. Their response freed them from the destructive consequences of bitterness and allows them to receive the blessings that eventually came about because of their suffering.
Seeing God in the Midst of Tragedy
There once lived a wealthy, peaceful man named Job. God said, “. . . There is none like him in the earth, a perfect and an upright man, one that feareth God, and escheweth [forsakes] evil” (Job 1:8). Scripture tells us that Satan wanted to test Job’s faith and asked God to let him bring tragedy into Job’s life. Satan taunted, “Touch all that he hath, and he will curse thee to thy face” (Job 1:11).
God gave Satan permission to bring trouble into Job’s life. In a single day, Job received news that his oxen, donkeys, and camels were stolen; many of his servants were killed; his sheep and shepherds were burned up in a fire; and his ten children were killed in a storm.
Job could have become bitter toward the thieves and toward God for allowing the fire and storm to ravage his family and property. Instead, he “rent his mantle, and shaved his head, and fell down upon the ground, and worshiped, and said, Naked came I out of my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return thither: the Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord” (Job 1:20–21).
To add to his great suffering, Job was plagued with sores that covered his body. Even his wife said, “Curse God, and die” (Job 2:9). Job responded by saying, “Thou speakest as one of the foolish women speaketh. What? shall we receive good at the hand of God, and shall we not receive evil?” (Job 2:10).
Job and several of his friends had a long discussion about why the bad things happened, and in the end God Himself spoke to Job and gave him a glimpse of His immense wisdom and character. Job realized that his life was a very small part of something grander than he had ever imagined, and Job stopped questioning God’s trustworthiness.
Job’s story concludes with the restoration of his health and wealth and the births of ten more children. In fact, “the Lord gave Job twice as much as he had before. . . . So the Lord blessed the latter end of Job more than his beginning . . .” (Job 42:10, 12).
Job’s story brings comfort to those who are suffering, because it showcases God’s faithfulness and His ability to glorify Himself through times of testing. We are challenged to say along with Job, “Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him” (Job 13:15).
Discerning God’s Ultimate Intentions
As the favored son of Israel’s patriarch Jacob, Joseph had dreams of a bright future. Little did he expect his jealous brothers to capture him and sell him as a slave. The slave traders took Joseph to Egypt, where his years of slavery culminated in a false accusation and imprisonment.
Joseph could have become bitter because of what his brothers had done to him and the injustice of his imprisonment. Instead, he worked diligently and grew in wisdom and responsibility. His authorities found him faithful and promoted him to positions of authority. In time, Joseph became second in command to Pharaoh and coordinated efforts to sustain the nation during a seven-year famine.
Through this experience, Joseph learned to see his enemies, who had evil intentions, as instruments in the hand of God. Not only did Egypt and other nations benefit from Joseph’s life, but his own family did as well. When Joseph’s brothers traveled to Egypt to find food during the famine, they repented of the evil they had done to Joseph, and their family was reunited. Joseph explained a key to forgiveness when he told his brothers, “Ye thought evil against me; but God meant it unto good, to bring to pass, as it is this day, to save much people alive” (Genesis 50:20).
Receiving Rebuke as From the Lord
The bitterness of Absalom, the son of Israel’s King David, led him to conspire against his father. Consequently, David was forced to flee from Jerusalem in an attempt to save his life. Along the way, a man named Shimei met David and cursed him and threw stones at him.
David could have been bitter toward Shimei, and as the king, David had every right to have Shimei executed. One of David’s generals said, “Why should this dead dog curse my lord the king? let me go over, I pray thee, and take off his head” (II Samuel 16:9).
David chose to leave vengeance in the hands of God, a choice he made many times during his lifetime. He understood that it was up to God to test the heart of man and bring just punishment for evil actions. Therefore, David responded to Shimei’s offense with confidence in God’s justice. “Let him curse, because the Lord hath said unto him, Curse David. Who shall then say, Wherefore hast thou done so? . . . Let him alone, and let him curse; for the Lord hath bidden him. It may be that the Lord will look on mine affliction, and that the Lord will requite me good for his cursing this day” (II Samuel 16:10–12).
Trusting God to Fulfill His Purposes Through Pain
The Jewish religious leaders envied Jesus Christ’s wisdom and popularity. They did not believe He was the promised Messiah, and they devised a plot to falsely accuse Him and bring Him to trial. After a mockery of justice, cruel beatings, and appalling indignities, Jesus was crucified.
Jesus could have looked on His enemies merely as men who were carrying out a wicked plot. Instead, He saw them as human agents used of God to accomplish God’s bigger purposes. Jesus knew He had been sent into the world to offer His life as a pure sacrifice to pay the debt of man’s sin against God. The wicked actions of his enemies enabled Him to fulfill God’s purpose of redemption. Therefore, Jesus was able to say from the cross, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34).
When you are mistreated, a forgiving response demonstrates the love of Christ to your offender. In this way, you continue the ministry of Christ’s suffering—and reconciliation—on the earth. (See II Corinthians 5:18.) The Apostle Paul said, “[I] now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up that which is behind of the afflictions of Christ in my flesh for his body’s sake, which is the church” (Colossians 1:24).
God is able to work through offenses to fulfill His purposes in your life and in the world. When you experience suffering, you can respond in forgiveness and trust God to work all things together for good.
“We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed; always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our body. . . . For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory; while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal” (II Corinthians 4:8–10, 17–18).
This material is adapted from pages 82–84 of the Basic Seminar Follow-Up Course.