The God of All Purpose

Moore Tornado, May 20, 2013 CC BY-NC, US Air Force, Flickr
Moore Tornado, May 20, 2013
CC BY-NC, US Air Force, Flickr

Previously we gathered from Augustine the idea that pain generally intrudes where conditions are prime. In his next words he delves deeper into the nature of pain:

But when a being is compelled to something better, the pain is useful, when to something worse, it is useless. Therefore in the case of the mind, the will resisting a greater power causes pain; in the case of the body, sensation resisting a more powerful body causes pain.

Augustine’s acumen here is to distance pain from being classed as something entirely evil. Instead, he implies that it takes on the character of its source. But before I deal with that, some perspective is in order.

Do All Things Bear Purpose?

We’ve already had it explained that nature and being is good because its Creator is good. But what is evil and sin? The biblical definition is plethora involving several words and concepts. Augustine offers the idea of a diminution or privation of goodness and the corruption of what is good (Ch. 4).

Since all things were created good—and evil is not a created thing—then less goodness, a lack of it, or its corruption are verily evil. Evil is always a potential with the existence of good the way darkness depends on the actuality of light.

A takeaway is the question of purpose. Years ago I watched a talk show and the question came up concerning autism—“Is there a purpose for everything, including disease?” Everyone nodded in agreement that there must be some purpose for it.

I couldn’t believe that based on what I knew of the scriptures. Disease (a natural evil as opposed to a moral one) holds no goodness, nor does it bear essential value. Regarding this in a post entitled “Help My Unbelief”, I wrote:

“I am not sure all things have purpose and moral value, and some things, like disease, may exist in a state of failed purpose…to assert that all things do indeed have purpose, from my Christian standpoint, may be leading to the justification of evil and sin’s existence in the world…although some things are mysterious and without apparent purpose, and perhaps consequently evil and used (by Satan) with evil intent, they can be used purposefully, but only if one possesses the power to cause it.”

Good Pain and Bad Pain

Flickr Moore Tornado 2That last line lands us here, squarely in Augustine’s logic. If God doesn’t create evil, he certainly doesn’t create pain. That is not to equate the two, nor is it to say good things may not result from pain, like courage or charitableness.

“But when a being is compelled to something better, the pain is useful, when to something worse, it is useless.” Rather than calling pain evil, Augustine suggests a “symptomatic” approach whereby pain is the result of an opposition between good and less good entities. Pain can be good pain or bad pain.

A body festering with disease and racked with pain is bad pain. Killer germs seek to take control of a healthy body. The agony of running a marathon or weightlifting is good pain. Although the vigorous exercise causes the lungs and muscles to burn, it enhances the body’s overall health. The examples continue and nicely apply to spiritual things.

God, the Great Weaver

Now if we ended here, we’d have evil on the loose, a loophole with purpose, and many tough questions. But preceding all created good and ensuing evil is God, who is the Guarantor of all experiences, good and bad, for those who believe.

“Only God has the power to use all things in purpose,” I conclude—all sorrow, disappointment, disease, and loss, in a plan well beyond our comprehension. Augustine agrees (Ch. 37):

“If anyone should wish to misuse these good things, not even thus does he vanquish the will of God, who knows how to order righteously even the unrighteous…he through the righteousness of his power may use their evil deeds rightly.”

More in the series: On Goodness and Pain and The Usefulness of Pain

12 thoughts on “The God of All Purpose

  1. God is wonderful. All things have purpose and meaning in life. Trouble will help us trust God’s care and believe him more, to love him and be thankful for a refuge. Nothing is wasted. Glory to God for victory in the Lord. His blood is our refuge, too. Thanks and blessings, Keijo in Sweden.

    1. Hi Keijo! God is indeed wonderful and our refuge in trial. I pray that you’ll continue to stand strong in his might. Thanks so much for commenting!

  2. Great posts Michael. I have nothing to add beyond the comments already made. Nothing is beyond His control or allowing of it I think is evident from Scripture!! Lord bless you!!!

  3. Again, good insights here, Mike. What Augustine is saying about “good pain” is what Paul said in Rom.8:28, God works all things together for good. It’s not wasted for those who love Him. And I’m glad you’re making the distinction on the source of pain. It is NOT God’s will that people have disease or suffer the effects of evil (like Calvinists seem to think). That makes God the author of sin and evil which is absurd. God does not make people sick. But He does use what was meant for evil for our our good. (Gen.50:20). And He gives us”beauty for ashes, The oil of joy for mourning, The garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness.” (Isa.61:3). And that’s good news! Blessings.

    1. Yeah, what’s up with the Calvinist? I won’t start in on that. I just love what redemption means. I’ve often said that God’s salvific nature is what sets him apart from all others. The gods of other religions get frustrated and angry and destroy; but God reclaims and causes what is marred to match his splendor. That’s why we give him glory. Cheers, Mel!

  4. Mike,
    I appreciate your expositions here. It is a subject I have been wrestling with and I’m printing off your article to read over a few times and chew on. 🙂

    My revelations regarding pain and suffering somewhat parallel yours in that God does not cause them, but they are a result of living in a fallen world. However, our gracious God doesn’t just look at the big picture of redemption from sin, but also the day to day suffering due to sin. In this He redeems our daily pain and suffering as well ‘causing it to work for good.’ In this He provides purpose in all things to His glory. Praise God! This is our Hope amidst our struggles!

    Blessings to you, thanks for getting me thinking this morning on something more than just the piles of laundry and the dogs that sorely need a bath :).

    1. It’s a wonderful hope that we have in God that nothing we experience is wasted. We may not always (immediately) see how it works for good, but we have the confidence that it does. This is why he tells us to do good despite underhanded and vindictive individuals and when others are unable to return the favor–because he backs the good. And as the landowner in Matthew 20 says, so says the Lord: “Whatever is right, I will pay.” Thus, the NT is correct in explaining that perseverance is born of faith. When you have faith that God has a purpose and design with the most hateful experiences, you can endure them far better. Thanks for reading, Kathleen!

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