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Does God Ordain Every Trial?

An unexpected death

This week I read Ben Witherington’s story of his 32-year old daughter’s unexpected death.

It was moving to hear of the love he had for his daughter, the grief he and his wife felt in their loss, and the strong hope they share in Christ.

I also appreciated his discussion of good vs. bad grief, and his affirmation that grief is good because it expresses love.

He and his wife are powerful examples of what it means to grieve with hope (1Th 4:13).

Something troubling

But it was troubling to hear him say “I do not believe in God’s detailed control of all events,” and hear him deny that “it’s all God’s will.”

This was troubling because I believe the Bible teaches that God is in detailed control of all events.  That’s what frees me from fear about the future — and gives me peace and strength as I experience trials.

So what does the Bible teach?

Dr. Witherington gives three reasons why he does not believe the Bible teaches that God is in detailed control of all events.

First, he finds it impossible to believe he is more merciful or compassionate than God.

Let’s take the case of Joseph’s kidnapping, separation from his father, and years of prison in Egypt.

Dr. Witherington says that since God is more compassionate than he is, and he would never plan such suffering for Joseph, therefore God would never plan such suffering for Joseph.

But in Gen 50:20 we read that God DID plan this suffering for Joseph.  Here’s what Joseph said to his brothers about their evil actions against him —

As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.

Notice that God “meant” Joseph’s imprisonment — which means He planned it, intended it, willed it.

So — does Joseph conclude that God was not merciful or compassionate?  Not at all — Joseph says “God meant it for good.”  It was part of God’s goodness, love, and mercy.

So the fact that we would not plan imprisonment for Joseph does not mean we are more loving than God.  It just means we have a different role in the universe than God.

Second, because the biblical portrait shows that God is pure light and holy love.  In him there is no darkness, nothing other than light and love.

That is a glorious truth about God that I celebrate with Dr. Witherington.

But does God’s pure light and holy love mean He never brings us trials?

Not according to Joseph.

Joseph said his imprisonment was an expression of God’s goodness (Gen 50:20) — that it was God’s desire to do good that motivated God to have Joseph be imprisoned.

So the Bible sees no contradiction between saying God is perfect love, and that He plans trials which bring us great good.

Third, the words “the Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away,” from the lips of Job (1:21), are not good theology. 

Dr. Witherington continues — “According to Job 1, it was not God but the Devil who took away Job’s children, health, and wealth.  God allowed it to happen, but when Job said these words, as the rest of the story shows, he was not yet enlightened about the true nature of the source of his calamity and God’s actual will for his life.  God’s will for him was for good and not for harm.”

Was Job wrong to say “the Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away” (Job 1:21)?

The author of Job tells us in the very next verse — “In all this Job did not sin or charge God with wrong” (Job 1:22).

Surely the “all this” has to include the words of the previous verse.

The author does the same in chapter two.  Job says “Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?”

And the author’s next words are “In all this Job did not sin with his lips” (Job 2:10).

So Job was not wrong.  Job spoke truth.  The Lord had taken away from Job.

Just as with Joseph, this was an expression of God’s perfect love, since God brought Job great good through these trials.

Here’s why this is important

It means every detail of my future is in God’s wise and loving hands (Eph 1:11).  I have nothing to fear.  Ever.

It means every trial is ultimately from God’s wise and loving hands (Exo 4:11; Amos 3:6; Acts 14:22).  Every trial has a wise and loving purpose.

It means every trial is a gift from God planned to bring me great good — especially the greatest good of His gracious presence (2Cor 12:9-10).  The grief, the pain, the sorrow are all worth it — because He is worth it.

Comments?  Feedback?  Pushback?

I’d love to hear your thoughts — feel free to leave a reply below.  Thanks.

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(Picture is by Gustave Dore, and in the public domain.)

Category: Miscellaneous, Problems or Trials


12 Responses

  1. Brian says:


    While I have never read Dr. Witherington’s story although I have some experience in the grief and shattered dreams that he has endured.

    We all take hope in Romans 8:28 “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.”

    While I fully embrace the truth of Romans 8:28, I have experienced both the joy and comfort as well as the two edged sword of that word. It took me some time to embrace the hope that is there because it had been given to me too often or quickly during the trials I have endured.

    We are told in James 1:2-4 “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”

    My Jesus, “who for the joy set before Him endured the cross (Hebrews 12:2)”, did so that I would be redeemed. I will count my trials a joy knowing that they come to me out of His deep, deep love.

    It seems to me that Romans 8:28 would be easier to embrace if Romans 8:29 had stated “And the Spirit who helps us in our weaknesses; will reveal how the will of God will cause all things to work together for your good.” but that is a promise He never makes. I have faith in Him who works these things together for my good and I can trust Him with my all, even my Lisa, my daughter.


    • Steve Fuller says:

      It means so much to have you share these thoughts, Brian, since you and Diane have had personal, first-hand experience of profound suffering.

      In light of that, it is powerful to hear you say that you know your trials have come out of Jesus’ deep, deep love.

      Given your experience, that statement is not just theory. It is the rock-solid foundation of your heart.

      I give thanks to your Savior for how steadfast your faith has been over the years. Your life has been a powerful display of Jesus’ worth.

  2. Steve, thanks for this. I’ll just add this from the end of Job, lest anyone think the author wasn’t consistent throughout: Job 42:7 After the Eternal had spoken these things to Job, he said to Eliphaz the Temanite, “My anger is stirred up against you and your two friends, because you have not spoken about me what is right, as my servant Job has.” I think James 1:16-17 also tells us that trials are good gifts from God; and Philippians 1:29 says that Christians have been graced with suffering for Jesus’ sake; not to mention all the places in the Exodus story where God led them in to desperate circumstances to test/try them.

    • Steve Fuller says:

      So glad to hear from you again, Doug. And thanks for sharing that powerful insight from Job 42:7 — and James 1 and Philippians 1. Really helpful.

  3. Terrie says:

    God is good and God is sovereign, of that we can be sure. For those of us who believe, we can trust He is FOR us, taking all the trials and tribulations we face and forcing them to do good to us. Praise God! He works all things for our good and His glory.

    A very encouraging post and I appreciated all the Scripture you shared!

    • Steve Fuller says:

      Thanks for stopping by, Terrie — and for sharing your thoughts.

      And keep pressing on with your ministry at Gospel Apprentice!


  4. Natasha Kay says:

    Great points, Steve! And to Dr. Witherington’s first point, I would add to your sentiment:

    “…so the fact that we would not plan imprisonment for Joseph does not mean we are more loving than God.” …it just means we are NOT God!

    It’s sheer and simple PRIDE that makes us think we should be able to fully understand God!

    I have had trials in my life that made no sense at all but I have also seen first hand how Romans 8:28 is accurate and true. But I caution people who read that verse to remember that it clearly states God works all things together for the good of those who **are called according to his purpose**.

    I interpret that as saying that you can live a life of sin and depravity…but if you never step into God’s PURPOSE for your life, and into HIS will, you will never see those things turn into your good. You will simply sabotage your own life.

    Whether I felt that I “deserved” the bad things that happened or not is beside the point. The real question is how I would respond…would I respond by humbling myself, admitting that I can’t understand it all, and asking God for his mercy and grace to help me step in line with His will for my life so that all of it would turn into “my good”? That is the power of that verse — God’s promise that no matter what mess we find ourselves in, when we humble ourselves before him, he will always turn it into our good!

    • Steve Fuller says:

      Wise words, Natasha. And you are so right to point out that Rom 8:28 concerns those who love God are are called according to His purpose.

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

  5. Anonymous says:

    Thank you

  6. nana says:

    Hi Steve, may I ask one question: I’ve heard a preacher saying it’s sick to think that God puts a disease in a person’s life in order to draw that person closer to Him? Or shall we put it as: God ‘allows’ a disease on a person? The preacher says that God as a loving Father will not purposely put something evil onto His child to make the child desire/come back to Him. I’m confused, not being argumentative, but really just to know the truth.

    • Steve Fuller says:

      Hi Nana,

      Thank you for raising this question. I believe the Bible is clear that in great love God does allow diseases to come upon us.

      He could have stopped the diseases. But instead he allows them in order to bring us the infinitely precious gift of more nearness with him.

      I base that on verses like Exodus 4:11 and John 9:1-3.

      In Christ,

      Steve Fuller

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