Theme: Even Bad Things Can Be Good Things
This week’s lessons teach the doctrine of common grace, and how it should lead people to the praise of God and, through saving grace, to faith in Jesus Christ.
Scripture: Isaiah 26:10
We do not repent because of grace, of course. We are going to explore that sad fact in a moment. But before we do, there is something else that needs to be noted about common grace. Up to now I have been showing that good things happen even to bad people. But now I want to acknowledge that bad things also happen, but that these are also good things in the sense that they should remind us of the destructive nature of sin, the shortness of life, and the need for redemption, so that we will seek God and find him through these bad but good things even if not through those which are an unmixed good.
Earlier I suggested some of the things God’s common grace supplies: a job, your family, times to enjoy life’s pleasures, personal peace. Clearly, each of these can also be taken away. But if they are, this should have a good rather than a bad effect for those who do not know God.
The loss of a job should teach the uncertainty of everything in life and to seek your only true or lasting security in God. The loss of a family member should remind you of eternity and of the need to prepare for it. That is why we often read these words from Psalm 90 at funeral services:
The length of our days is seventy years—or eighty, if we have the strength;yet their span is but trouble and sorrow,for they quickly pass, and we fly away…Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.(vv. 10, 12)
The loss of good things should turn you from the rampant materialism that surrounds you and remind you that “a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions,” as Jesus said (Luke 12:15). The loss of peace, whether personal or political, should cause you to seek “peace with God” through the work of Jesus Christ (Rom. 5:1), and to pray for the “peace of God, which transcends all understanding” (Phil. 4:7).
Toward the end of the Old Testament there is a minor prophet who deals with these subjects just as I have been treating them in this chapter. It is Joel. The land had experienced a devastating invasion of locusts in Joel’s day, probably identical to a notable invasion of Palestine by locusts in 1915, as described by John D. Whiting in the December 1915 issue of National Geographic Magazine. In 1915, the locusts consumed everything in the region so that there was literally nothing to eat. In a predominantly agricultural economy, which Judah’s was, this was an unmitigated disaster, and Joel does not hesitate to call it exactly that. In fact, in his opening chapter he calls on various classes in the society to recognize the evil as evil and weep because of it.
But that is not all he wants. As the prophecy continues Joel makes three more important points.
God is responsible for the disaster.
Although it was dreadful, the invasion of the locusts would be followed in time by an even greater disaster: God’s final judgment. He calls it “the day of the Lord” and describes it as “a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and blackness” (Joel 2:1, 2).
The present evil and the greater coming evil should lead people to repent of their sin and seek God. Joel’s classic words are:
Rend your heartand not your garments.Return to the Lord your God,for he is gracious and compassionate,slow to anger and abounding in love,and he relents from sending calamity.Who knows? He may turn and have pityand leave behind a blessing.(Joel 2:13, 14)
The people did not do it, of course. They continued in their perverse, unrepentant ways, and the result was the destruction of Jerusalem and the deportation of the nation as a result of the Babylonian invasion of 586 B.C.
How do bad situations point us to God’s goodness?
From the lesson, what three important things do we learn from the book of Joel?
Reflection: Can you recall an event in your life that, although it was very difficult and what we would call “bad,” nevertheless was used to produce something good in your life or in the life of someone else?