The Rev. Dr. Robert S. Langworthy, preaching
February 20, 2022
Given the present turmoil in our world and the potent forces of evil afoot in it, it’s hard to keep one’s heart at peace.
Yet, the 23rd Psalm and other scriptures exhort us to “fear no evil”. The thought is that, while evil can bring us trouble, pain and setbacks, it can never stymie God’s good plans for those who live under His Lordship. He will bring them somewhere wonderful in the end.
From his education in the school of hard knocks, Joseph came to believe that. Through the ups and downs of an often difficult life, he experienced how God allows what He hates to bring about what He loves, how God permits the fulfillment of evil human intentions for the sake of the fulfillment of good divine intentions.
Joseph’s own brothers sold him into slavery. Yet, what they meant for evil God meant to turn to good effect.
By letting Joseph’s brothers deprive Joseph of freedom and family, God opened the way for Joseph to attain a position of power in Egypt, then the world’s dominant nation, from which he could provide food to keep his people alive when they were in danger of starving to death in a widespread and long-lived famine.
In a desperate quest for food, Joseph’s brothers had approached Joseph, whom at the time they only saw as Pharaoh’s 2nd in command. They didn’t recognize their little brother, for he had aged over the decades and appeared before them dressed like an Egyptian and talking like one with no trace of a Hebrew accent. If any of them had ever wondered what had happened to him, none would have imagined his rising to such prominence in such a far-away and foreign land. When Joseph finally identified himself, they were flabbergasted.
In the twists and turns of his tough life, Joseph had not only gained a good life but become a good man. In his moment of self-revelation, in a miracle of gracious kindness, Joseph – who could have in revenge executed his brothers with a snap of his fingers – refraining from tongue-lashing them or shaming them. For he had another agenda on his mind at that moment: he wanted instead to celebrate God’s amazing goodness!
After all, God had taken over their vicious plans and made them serve God’s loving plans. It was ultimately God, and not Joseph’s brothers, who sent Joseph to Egypt and put him in a position to save his people. God had converted the genuinely evil objectives of those who should have loved and taken care of Joseph into the means by which God loved and took care of them all. God mixed their vicious wishes into the dishes He cooked up for a feast of grace for everyone!
God’s people need not fear evil because evil can’t ultimately thwart God’s loving designs for them. Though God may allow evil to have its day, He never allows it to have the final say about the welfare of His own.
God’s people, folks whose fundamental orientation in life is to defer to God’s way, sometimes do evil things; but God is so creative and ingenious that He makes something marvelous of the mess they make.
Would that we all could hold on to this truth with such faith that our hearts would remain at peace, even when hard times hit us, those we trust mean us harm, or we ourselves have a weak and wavering commitment to do right. Opposition to our achieving the good life arises both from outside of us and from within us.
The happy news is that the same God who is not frustrated in fulfilling His good will by the evil intentions of others is neither frustrated by our own equivalent or faltering good intentions. Let me share an analogy Philip Yancey once offered:
Yancey had played chess on and off for years and at times worked hard at perfecting his game. In Chicago he started playing a chess master with exceptional skills. After a few matches with him, Yancey had to admit that in playing his friend he was beyond his depths. He writes, “Any classic offense I tried, he countered with a classic defense. If I turned to more risky unorthodox techniques, he incorporated my bold forays into his winning strategies. Although I had complete freedom to make any move I wished, I soon reached the conclusion that none of my strategies mattered very much. His superior skill guaranteed that my purposes inevitably ended up serving his own.”
We all play a serious game of life with God, one in which God’s victory means our blessing. We will rest serene in this serious game if we bear in mind that, if we give God our hearts, with their mixed motives and ambivalence, any bad intention within us or any weakness in good intentions ends up serving God’s loving plans. Despite a deficiency in our spiritual or ethical resolve or an absence of purity of purpose, we need fear no evil, neither evil brought against us by others nor evil brought about by us. For God works for good in all things, even bad things. God is that able, and that good!