“He will turn to good whatever adversity he sends”

I received an embarrassingly inadequate—indeed, spiritually harmful—theological education from the Candler School of Theology. To be fair, I was (as I see now) barely a Christian at the time and thus utterly unprepared to meet the challenge posed by critical scholarship and the liberal mainline. If there were evangelicals among its faculty (and I think they hired one recently), I didn’t know it at the time.

Be that as it may, between Candler’s sixth or seventh helping of “liberation theology,” it apparently didn’t have time to teach classic Reformation-era confessions of faith such as the Heidelberg Catechism.

So, for example, I didn’t know that it included these words in Answer 26:

I trust [God] so much that I do not doubt he will provide whatever I need for body and soul, and he will turn to my good whatever adversity he sends me in this sad world. He is able to do this because he is almighty God; he desires to do this because he is a faithful Father.

In this blog post, Andrew Wilson describes a letter expressing astonishment that Wilson would teach that God ever sends adversity to his children. He says this objection is becoming increasingly commonplace. In my experience, I have to agree. I blogged once about a sermon I read (from a fellow Candler grad, naturally) who said that God “never wants us to suffer. Never!”

When I tried to challenge this idea, politely, I received a pushback that suggested that my opinion on the subject was definitely in the minority, at least when it comes to mainline Protestantism.

Regardless, I like this last paragraph from Wilson’s post:

As I say, the irony of this particular objection is that the love of the Father, which (to be fair) is what the objection is trying to preserve, is often demonstrated most emphatically to us when we are suffering. It is suffering which produces perseverance, and character, and hope, which does not disappoint because the love of God has been shed abroad in our hearts by the Spirit. It is “in all these things” – persecution, danger, nakedness, sword – that we know nothing can separate us from the love of God.  It is through sufferings that our comfort abounds in Christ, and through discipline that we know we are legitimate children of God. And it is God’s ability to turn all things to good, in precisely this context of pain and difficulty, that the Heidelberg Catechism makes central to its statement about God’s loving care for us: “He is able to do this because he is almighty God; he desires to do this because he is a faithful Father.”

Do you find anything objectionable here? I don’t.

4 thoughts on ““He will turn to good whatever adversity he sends””

  1. Absolutely God brings “hard circumstances” into our lives–the OT states this repeatedly. Indeed, to Moses God said to the effect, “Who made birth defects? Have not I, the Lord?” The reason for this is that life on this earth is not about “pleasant circumstances” or “happy times,” but the creation of our character, which is what endures eternally. It is only in heaven that we have “all enjoyable” circumstances.

    1. I was reading Judges 3 this morning, and it lists the nations that the Lord left in Canaan “for the testing” of the Israelites (tests which they failed repeatedly and increasingly in Judges, unfortunately). Still, the idea that God doesn’t want his people to suffer seems incomprehensible from a biblical point of view. One would have to conclude that God was more involved in the world back then than he is today (working in and through everything for our good), or, worse, that God doesn’t love his people as much today, since he never uses adversity to grow our faith.

  2. [18] Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you used to dress yourself and walk wherever you wanted, but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go.” [19] (This he said to show by what kind of death he was to glorify God.) And after saying this he said to him, “Follow me.”

    (John 21:18-19 ESV)

    If Peter’s death was to be for God’s glory, so then can be whatever suffering we have.

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