Over the past year I’ve been reflecting on my search for peace and how I have found it in the tension between two truths. In the spring I wrote about the tension of how every moment matters and yet it is all about the big picture. In the summer I wrote about the tension between God’s sovereignty and human free will. As the leaves change and fall and the autumn weather turns colder, I’m writing my final piece this year on the tension between God’s will for good and His permission of evil, and how I can get in the way of God’s good.
Six days after I was diagnosed with metastatic cancer, my husband Coleman preached a sermon on the story of Joseph. He titled it “God Meant It for Good”.
In the immediate aftermath of the diagnosis, of learning we’d need to leave our home and community in South Africa, in all the chaos of tests and doctors appointments, and the fear as we realized just how sick I was, I had peace. Incredible peace. I truly believe it was a gift of God that I knew soul-deep peace in those days. In the following months as we moved, met new doctors, made a plan, as I underwent surgery, and faced complication after complication, I still knew peace. I knew God’s good didn’t want my suffering and believed He would bring good out of it.
But somewhere in the months that followed, as we moved from the sprint of the crisis to the marathon of recovery, I lost my peace. Days of pain turned into weeks of pain. Weeks of antibiotics turned into months of antibiotics. Months of recovery turned into a year with some measurable improvement but also significant ongoing challenges. As the hard stretched on, my focus turned to earthly things and I found myself struggling with discontentment, dissatisfaction, restlessness, and a notable absence of peace. I found myself getting in the way of God’s good.
Recently, the Bryn Athyn College Chapel talk was on forgiveness, and Rev. Ray Silverman spoke about how God’s forgiveness, His love, His desire to give us every good thing is always there. In order to to receive that gift, His peace, my action is needed. Often I think God gives us good things in spite of our getting in His way; however, to truly gain all the good He offers and intends, He needs our cooperation.
“You thought it for evil but God thought it for good.” In his sermon, Coleman preached about the significance of these words, and read from Arcana Coelestia 6574. The whole passage is worth reading but I want to highlight a portion here:
“But the Lord Himself is then present with those in temptation, both directly, and indirectly by angels, and resists by rebutting the falsities of the hellish spirits, and by dissipating their evil, thus giving refreshment, hope, and victory. Thus with those who are in the truths of good, the truths of faith and the goods of charity are more inwardly implanted and more strongly confirmed. This is the means by which spiritual life is given.”
Evil is still evil. Just because God turns it into good, it is not the evil that is glorified, evil is not excused. God’s will is for good, and He does not want people to suffer (Lamentations 3:33). When He gives permission for it, He weeps over our suffering. Coleman said in his sermon “If good won’t come of it, God won’t allow it.” There are evils that God does not permit, and in this truth I find the reassurance that in whatever evil and hardship I am currently facing there is goodness that God will bring out of it.
The evil spirits whose influence led to my cancer meant it for evil. God has allowed it for good. In a very real way, whichever wins is up to me! What do I choose? To allow evil to fester, spread, rule my life? Or to stand in the light of God’s goodness and trust Him, to hand over my life to Him that He might bring good out of it.
God planned good things in Joseph’s story, but Joseph had to be a willing partner. He was diligent, worked hard, he was faithful with all he was entrusted and because of that faithfulness, God’s goodness could come through. This was a lifetime of endurance – years of injustice, suffering, grief. Yet Joseph had peace, and confidence in the Lord.
This kind of peace, the peace that endures is a gift of God, yes, but it is one we have to willingly receive, open, and use. Peace becomes an action, a daily choice, just like hope and love and faith. Peace is a fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22,23) and fruit is what we bear based on our own choices (Matthew 7:16, John 15:5).
A well-loved passage in the New Church is from Arcana Coelestia 8455 “Peace has in it confidence in the Lord, that He directs all things, and provides all things, and that He leads to a good end.” The quote goes on though and gives us revealing details about how we achieve this peace: “When a man is in this faith, he is in peace, for he then fears nothing, and no solicitude about things to come disquiets him. A man comes into this state in proportion as he comes into love to the Lord.”
The passage continues to say that all evil and especially self-confidence, take away from this peace. I cannot will myself to peace. I cannot find peace through what I do, through organizing my house or being successful at my work or even by taking good care of my children. Peace is found through loving the Lord.
Ultimately, our promise of peace, our promise of justice, our promise of healing is not of this world. When evil comes, know that God does not will it. Sit with the Psalmists. Lament. Sit with the Lord in Gethsemane, and pray that this cup passes, yet not my will but Thine. Pursue peace and justice and healing in this world with everything you have for that is loving your neighbour, but place you hope in Kingdom peace, in a healing that goes beyond death and justice that endures beyond the grave.
My battle is not won in this world. It’s not even of this world.
Peace in this world comes as we pray ‘Thy kingdom come’ and look towards eternity, Heaven, lived out peace and justice and glory. Healing in this world comes as forgive others as we have been forgiven. Justice in this world comes when we fix our eyes on the next.
It’s not instant. It’s not overnight. And it’s not all in one go in heaven either – being perfected to eternity is an ongoing process, it’ll take forever!
Back to our story. Good wins. Love wins. Always, again and again, and again. I will not lose my fight with cancer, even if I die from it. God wins over this evil in me. May I choose to let Him win over all of the evil in me again and again and again.