“Hurtful Intention - Intentional God”

Genesis 50:15-21

Dr. Robert J. Anderson

September 14, 2014


9/11 was a day that transformed out country and our world.  Where were you on the fateful day and what were you doing?  I bet you remember.  I know I do!


September 11, 2001 was a Presbytery meeting on the other side of the Presbytery at the Life Enrichment Center.  Diane and I had only been in Florida just short of three months.  Diane was home working to make our house a home, and I was away at an overnight Presbytery meeting.  Because we, the commissioners and clergy, were in the Presbytery meeting our cell phones were turned off.  We had no idea what was going on.  About 10:30 that morning there was a break and people went outside and turned on their cell phones and heard about the planes crashing into the Twin Towers and a missing plane--the one that later crashed into the field in Pennsylvania (we would later learn that it flew over the township we lived in before moving to Florida).  I had a voicemail from Diane and called her, and she told me what was happening.  The presbytery meeting ended early and I will remember driving through Deland on the way home and people with flags and signs on the street corners.


That day a new world order was created with new wars.  Those born after 9/11 have never known a world without terrorists, long lines at the security checkpoints in airports and more.  Those living after 9/11 are living in a different world than what they had known--one that had seemed much safer and less threatening.


What did we learn after that day?  We learned we must be leery of any suspicious movement by any government or group anywhere in the world, because it will profoundly affect everyone in the world.  People’s lives were change as they mourned the deaths of their loved ones in the Twin Towers and a field in Pennsylvania.  People’s lives were forever changed as our troops marched off to war in Afghanistan and Iraq.


Certainly the ways we view immigration and foreigners changed.  We’ve become more protective of our borders¾this is needed but we must be careful not to go too far and treat all as though they are terrorists.   Every person of Middle East background is not a terrorist.  We should be vigilant but not paranoid.


We learned we should look at the things the United States has done, is doing, that make people dislike us so and not just say they are envious.  We should work to correct the things we do wrong and work to improve the things we do well.


The Genesis passage today raises the troubling question “Why does God allow this or that?”  Where is God when the bad things happen?  How was God involved in the death of a loved one?  Did God cause it to happen or just look the other way?  What is the meaning of this event in the bigger picture?


When we are asked this question, we find ourselves in the position--as John Milton put it--”justifying the ways of God to men.”  This is an impossible task.  The best we can do is to say, “I don’t know how God is at work in this, but I trust that God is lovingly at work."


Perhaps you will find a traditional Buddhist story interesting.  An old farmer worked his fields for many years when one day his horse ran away.  Sympathetic neighbors said “Such bad luck.”  The farmer replied, “Maybe.”  The next day the horse returned bringing three other wild horses and the neighbors said, “How wonderful!”  The farmer replied, “Maybe.”  The next day the farmer’s son tried to ride one of the wild horses and fell and broke his leg.  The neighbors said, “Such bad luck,” and the farmer said, “Maybe.”  The next day the military showed up to conscript the young men of the village.  When they saw the farmer’s son with a broken leg, they passed him by.  The neighbors congratulated him and said, “What good fortune!”  The farmer said, “Maybe.”


The story illustrates that you and I cannot fully know the good or evil in any particular event.  The Apostle Paul would say we can only see as in a mirror dimly, but we will see clearly face-to-face later.  We only know in part but later we will know fully as we are known fully.


Our story in Genesis raises the question to another level above the usual one.  When people do intentionally evil things, where is God in that?


Joseph’s brothers, with the exception of Benjamin, sold him into slavery.  When the truth comes out of the brothers’ mouths, Joseph says, “Even though you intended to do harm to me, God intended it for good.”  Even man’s intentional evil cannot stop God.  God can and does take the intentional evil people do and transform it into his purposes.  And, this is a mystery just like the Buddhist story illustrates.


The ultimate illustration God transforming the evil women and men do is seen on Easter Sunday morning when Jesus Christ was raised from the dead!  The religious authorities intentionally planned to harm Jesus.  The Roman authorities, by looking the other way, contributed to harming Jesus.  Both the religious authorities and the Roman authorities conspired to crucify Jesus on the cross.  But, then God transformed the ultimate evil into the ultimate good--resurrection.


Please, do not hear in this that God intends or cause humans to do evil things.  Instead hear that God can and does transform such things into God’s purposes.  God can take the worst things and transform them!


When we hear Joseph’s declaration that what his brothers intended for evil, God meant for God, we might think of Paul’s words in Romans.  “We know that all things work together for good for those who love God.”  Or better, “in all things God works for good…”  Not all things are good, but God always works for good.


You and I don’t often know the meaning of the past or present.  We don’t understand ourselves.  We don’t understand our neighbors.  We don’t understand God.  What we do understand; what we know is that in all things--good and bad and even the intentional evil things--God is always working for good.


People will hurt us--by accident and intentionally--but God can transform it all into something good.  God intends to do good--always!  We will hurt other people--by accident and intentionally--but God can transform it all into something good.


God intends to do good--always!  God is good all the time!