If you’ve never read the story of Joseph, you really ought to do so. It’s just as fascinating and dramatic as anything Hollywood might produce. In a nutshell: Joseph, as a child, is his father’s favorite son, and his brothers are jealous of the special treatment he receives. To make matters worse, Joseph has two dreams in which his brothers are bowing down to him, and for some reason I can’t imagine, he tells his brothers about the dreams. They plot to kill him, but the oldest brother, Reuben, talks them out of it by suggesting they sell him into slavery instead. They take Joseph’s “many colored” coat, put animal blood on it, and tell their father that Joseph is dead. Meanwhile, Joseph is actually put in a pretty decent position in society under a guy named Potiphar, and Potiphar makes him the superintendent of everything. But just as things are looking up, Joseph is wrongly accused of attempted rape (by Potiphar’s wife) and thrown in prison. While he is in prison, he becomes known as someone who is able to interpret dreams. The leader of Egypt, Pharaoh, has two disturbing dreams, finds out about Joseph, and asks Joseph to interpret the dreams. Joseph tells the Pharaoh the meaning of the dreams, that there will be seven years of abundant crops and seven years of famine. Pharaoh not only believes Joseph but puts Joseph in charge of Egypt, second in command only to Pharaoh himself. Consequently, when Joseph’s father sends his brothers to Egypt for groceries, they find themselves at his mercy, just as they were in Joseph’s dreams all those years ago. Joseph is eventually reunited with his father, and he forgives his brothers for what they did to him. There’s much more to the story than this, but for the purpose of this blog, this recap will suffice.
Now, let’s suppose that you were an eyewitness to Joseph’s being sold as a slave. You see how Joseph’s brothers hate him. Then someone asks you, “Does God get what God wants?” You know that God does not want people to hate, yet here is Joseph, nearly hated to death by his own siblings. How do you answer this? You admit, no, God doesn’t get what God wants. You see Joseph thrown into prison for a crime he did not commit. Yet, you know that God hates injustice. Then someone asks you, “Does God get what God wants?”. Sadly, you reply, no.
Joseph eventually stands face to face with his brothers. Here is part of the account in Genesis:
And Joseph saith unto his brethren, “Come nigh unto me, I pray you,” and they come nigh; and he saith, “I [am] Joseph, your brother, whom ye sold into Egypt; and now, be not grieved, nor let it be displeasing in your eyes that ye sold me hither, for to preserve life hath God sent me before you. Because these two years the famine [is] in the heart of the land, and yet [are] five years, [in] which there is neither ploughing nor harvest; and God sendeth me before you, to place of you a remnant in the land, and to give life to you by a great escape; and now, ye – ye have not sent me hither, but God, and He doth set me for a father to Pharaoh, and for lord to all his house, and ruler over all the land of Egypt.”
Notice how Joseph explains the situation, that “God sent”, “God sendeth”, “ye have not sent, but God”, and “He doth set me”. So now that we have the end result, shouldn’t we revisit the question, “Does God get what God wants?” Yes, God does not want people to hate, and yes, God hates injustice, but God used that hate and injustice to get what He wanted, that is, “to preserve life”. If God uses actions that are against His will as part of His plan to accomplish His will, then we can answer the question, “Does God get what God wants” with a confident, “YES!”
The reason I began this blog with the story of Joseph is to demonstrate that God accomplishes His will in His own time and His own way. The scriptures are crammed full of examples just like this, in which God accomplishes His will through the disobedience of His creation. In fact, we could say the same thing of the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. Jesus plainly told His disciples that he would die, yet, after he died and before his resurrection, his disciples were an emotional mess. If someone had asked them during this time, “Does God get what God wants?”, they might not have been able to say “YES!” They certainly were not acting like people who had confidence in the sovereignty of God.
In Francis Chan’s book, Erasing Hell, Chan asks, “Does God get what God wants?” in reference to 1 Timothy 2:4 in the NIV translation:
[God] wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.
Chan’s argument goes like this:
Paul, who said that God wants all people to be saved, also said that God “wants” all Christians to be sexually pure (1 Thes. 4:3). Ever met a Christian who was not sexually pure? Does this mean that God is not getting what He wants?
Chan then goes on to talk about God’s moral will (values that please Him) and His decreed will (events that He causes to happen), explaining that God allows His moral will to be resisted in order to carry out His decreed will. What it really boils down to is the sovereignty of God over the human will. This is a huge debate in Christianity that has been going on for a long time, in Calvinism and Arminianism. I actually wrote a lengthy blog series, based on R.C. Sproul’s book, Willing to Believe, which examines these concepts thoroughly. Here are the links if you would like to read them: Does God Command Us to Do the Impossible?, A Great Chess Player, Volunteer for Slavery, Picking the Petals Off of TULIPs, and Amazed Exceedingly.
Chan’s argument seems to make sense on the surface – God doesn’t want Christians to cheat on their spouses, but Christians cheat on their spouses, therefore God doesn’t get what God wants. However, we need to consider this idea further, take it to its conclusion. Will the Christian who cheats on his/her spouse ALWAYS cheat on his/her spouse? No, of course not. At some point, God will intervene, whether it be through grace or discipline, because He disciplines those He loves, He loves everyone, and everyone is disciplined eventually (Heb. 12:7-8, Rom. 5:6-8). Just because we don’t see the cheating spouse repent RIGHT NOW doesn’t mean that it will NEVER happen.
Why is it that I can see the question, “Does God get what God wants?”, and I can answer it affirmatively, while Chan goes the opposite direction? Because Chan is answering a different question than the one he asks! Yes, that’s right, Chan asks one question and then poses an answer for a different question. Let’s look closely again at what he writes:
Ever met a Christian who was not sexually pure? Does this mean that God is not getting what God wants?
Notice the change in verb tense between the question Chan proposes and the answer He gives in his illustration, namely “does” and “is”. This may seem insignificant, but it is actually what makes or breaks Chan’s argument. The statement (I restructured the interrogative into a declarative to make it easier to see how Chan shifts the verb tense), “God does not get what He wants” distinctly contrasts the statement, “God is not getting what He wants.” The first statement communicates the idea that God NEVER gets what He wants. The second statement communicates the idea that God is not getting what He wants right now. Does Chan honestly believe that this Christian man will continue in sin forever? I doubt that he does. Yet, he uses this “now” example as a way of convincing his readers to negate the idea that God gets what He wants “never”. It is so important to know the difference. Plus, even if God is not getting what He wants right now, in a way, He is getting what He wants, because nothing happens outside of His permission. He could strike a sinner dead in an instant to prevent the sin if He wanted, but He won’t if it is not part of His sovereign plan which takes into account the fact that we are all sinners.
I don’t think that Chan intentionally did this, but this technique of switching the question has a name. It is a “Fallacy of Distraction” with the subheading “Complex Question”, defined as:
Two unrelated points are conjoined by a single proposition.
My point is that Chan did a wonderful job of proving what we already know to be true. God doesn’t want us to sin. We sin. There you have it. That is the full substance of his argument which has very little to do with the question of God’s ultimate sovereignty. God has a purpose in everything that happens. Everything, including our sin. How did God send Joseph to Egypt “to preserve life”? Through the sin of his brothers. How did Jesus redeem the world? Through the sin of the religious leaders.
Dr. Sinclair Ferguson (in a guest Q&A on Renewing Your Mind with R.C. Sproul) says,
“The faith that unites us to Christ brings us really into a new order of reality altogether in which the dominion of sin over our lives has once and for all been broken. Why we need to keep hearing the gospel is because we actually doubt what the gospel says. When we look in, we see all kinds of evidence that the presence of sin is still very, very real. We need to learn to distinguish between the fact that the dominion of sin has been broken although the presence of sin remains until the day when the presence of sin is finally banished from our lives.”
God does get what God wants, in His own time and His own way.
The LORD does whatever pleases him,
in the heavens and on the earth,
in the seas and all their depths.
Next blog in this series: Why Chan Can’t Erase Hell: Sin Wins