Looking Evil in the Eye

Looking Evil in the Eye

Joseph’s brothers realized something we should never forget.

It comes at the end of the story in Genesis 50. This is a long time after the brothers conspired together against Joseph. A lot had happened since then — since they hated their brother enough to sell him to Midianite traders for twenty shekels of silver (Genesis 37:28). That was the evil that started it all.

They grieved their father, Jacob, with a lie about Joseph’s death (Genesis 37:32–35). Joseph eventually was enslaved to Potiphar in Egypt, that is, until Potiphar’s wife slandered him (Genesis 39:11–20), had him thrown into prison (Genesis 39:19–20), and the cupbearer forgot him (Genesis 40:23). Years passed and then the famine came. The sons of Jacob traveled to Egypt in search for food. By this time, Joseph was the top ruler in Egypt next to Pharaoh. “All the earth came to Egypt to Joseph to buy grain” (Genesis 41:57). Eventually Joseph revealed his identity to his brothers and dealt kindly with them (Genesis 45:3–8). He was so kind to them, in fact, that he moved the entire family and all their stuff to the land of Goshen, where they were “fruitful and multiplied greatly” (Genesis 47:27). Jacob was old now. He blessed his sons and then he died (Genesis 49:33).

And that’s where we see it:

When Joseph’s brothers saw that their father was dead, they said, “It may be that Joseph will hate us and pay us back for all the evil that we did to him.” (Genesis 50:15)

So at the end, after a lot of good things had happened to Joseph and his family, when there was “a lot of water under the bridge,” so to speak, Joseph’s brothers were terrified that Joseph would punish them for “all the evil” they did to him. But why is that? Why were they scared about this even after all this time?

Evil Is Evil

Joseph’s brothers were scared because they knew no matter how much good had come from their evil, what they did was still evil. They knew that though good had come to Joseph and the whole family, what they did to him was still wrong and worthy of punishment, and they thought the time to pay had come.

The point here is simple, but really important, and worth remembering:

God using evil things for our good does not make the evil things less evil.

The implications for how we live are as straightforward.

1. Call evil evil.

We should not think that calling bad things what they are somehow disqualifies the possibility of good coming from them. In the story of Joseph, we see no such thing. Joseph closes with his final take on the whole history between him and his brothers: “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good” (Genesis 50:20).

Notice that he didn’t say: “Hey, you know, God made a lot of good things happen so no worries about your jealousy, betrayal, greed, and lies. No big deal.” Joseph does not dismiss the wickedness of what they did. He actually relinquishes the judgment to the hand of God (Genesis 50:19).

So we don’t lessen the evil retroactively — after we’ve witnessed God bring forth good — and we don’t lessen the evil while we are still enduring its consequences. We experience the darkness — whether news of a terrorist’s bomb or an abortionist’s butchery — as the atrocity it is. We rightly are sickened. We fittingly are angry. We don’t look for pleasantries, or for a positive spin. It is evil, and we look it straight in the eye as evil, hating every damnable bit of it.

2. Expect God to bring good.

Evil as it is, God will bring good to his people through it. Evil is part of the “all things” (Romans 8:28). This is only a pat answer if we haven’t felt the evil. God bringing good doesn’t mean the evil is less evil, but that God is that sovereign, that good, that wise.

So in the truest sense, we look evil straight in the eye, call it evil, and say loud and clear that whatever havoc it wields, whatever pain it causes, it is permitted, not free. We tell evil it’s not the ultimate reality in the universe. There is One who is stronger. There is One who is so sovereign and so good and so wise, in fact, that he overpowers evil to use it for the everlasting benefit of his people.

Evil’s Destruction

But more than that, God has overpowered evil in such a way that evil actually destroys itself. Evil’s high time, after all, was at a place called Golgotha about 2,000 years ago. How promising it must have seemed to Satan and the hosts of hell as the nails were beaten into Jesus’s hands. The Creator of the universe mocked by his creatures, ridiculed, slain — this is the greatest evil imaginable. He came to give us life, and we blew him up on a cross. Jesus breathed his last and a cloud of darkness filled the earth.

And at the moment, when Evil thought it triumphed, the curse on this world was broken, absorbed into the One who took our place. Evil thought it had won when it actually had killed itself. Darkness for a day, silence for one more, and then came the morning of the third. The blackest dark gave way to the brightest light. Jesus came alive. He defeated death and paved the way for an entirely new humanity.

His death was wrong. He was killed by wicked men. It was evil, evil, evil. And then he was raised, truly raised, bringing good for all who trust in him. Good, good, good. We should never forget.


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Jonathan Parnell (@jonathanparnell) is a writer and content strategist at Desiring God, and is the lead planter of Cities Church in Minneapolis–Saint Paul, where he lives with his wife, Melissa, and their four children. He is also the co-author of How to Stay Christian in Seminary.