“God can take anything that is negative and turn it into something good."
The Internet lost its mind last month after an Oklahoma state Representative—that nobody outside of that state had ever heard of before—defended an anti-abortion bill by saying that even in pregnancies that result from rape or incest, “God can bring beauty from ashes.”
“Republican lawmaker says rape and incest part of God’s will,” was typical of the headlines about comments made by George Faught of Muskogee.
Faught made the statement during debate about a bill in that state that will outlaw abortions based solely on a diagnosis of Down syndrome or other genetic abnormalities.
When another state representative asked Faught, a churchgoer, if he thought pregnancies that resulted from rape and incest were the “will of God,” Faught replied that “the Lord uses all circumstances”—adding that the bill had nothing to do with either circumstance.
He maybe should have stopped there; he was in a state house, after all, not a church.
But he went on to say that “obviously if it happens in someone’s life, it may not be the best thing that ever happened . . . so you’re saying that God is not sovereign with every activity that happens in someone’s life and can’t use anything and everything in someone’s life, and I disagree with that.”
Whether or not you agree with Faught, the idea that suffering has a bigger purpose, and that it can be redeemed and turned into something good, has deep roots in many religions.
The phrase Faught used—“beauty for ashes”—comes from Isaiah 61:3, where God promises the nation of Israel that one day he will replace mourning and despair with joy and praise.
In the New Testament, the apostle Paul counseled Christians to rejoice in suffering because it produces endurance, hope and character. In the book of Romans, he added that “we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”
In the fourth century Saint Augustine added that "God would not allow any evil to exist unless out of it he could draw a greater good. This is part of the wisdom and goodness of God."
Someone who has struggled to understand those sentiments is Wilma Derksen. Her daughter, Candace, was murdered 33 years ago.
“My own story is one of beauty out of ashes,” she told me. “God can take anything that is ugly, violent, negative and turn it into something good. That’s a promise.”
Derksen, who has just authored a new book titled The Way of Letting Go: One Woman’s Walk Toward Forgiveness (Zondervan), is quick to note that such a realization can only happen retrospectively.
“You can’t see it at the time,” she says, remembering her own experience. “It takes a long time to understand how things can be used for good, and there are no guarantees. Some evil acts can destroy people.”
She also doesn’t believe that it was God’s will that her daughter be murdered—that God caused it so that she could help others in similar situations.
“God has done a lot of good out of Candace’s murder, but he doesn’t condone murder,” she says.
Violence, she adds, “doesn’t contain the seed of goodness. God can make something good out of bad, but I had to decide that—I had to be part of it with God.”
To actually turn the ashes into beauty, she needed to “dump a good yard of soil on the ashes and plant a seed of goodness . . . there has to be a massive intervention to redeem the barren land left by a negative evil act.”
And even though her daughter’s murder has resulted in “amazing” opportunities to help many others, “we should always remember that there is huge loss,” she states. “Even if something turns out for good, a loss is still a loss . . . Candace is still gone.”
“I can never thank God for the murder of our daughter,” she concludes. “That was an entirely evil, destructive force at work.”
But, she says, “I can thank God, the beautiful creator gardener, who helped us find the seeds and then to plant and nourish these seeds of goodness which grew and produced unexpected fruit in the strangest of places, a transformational picture of beauty for ashes that has surprised even us.”
After they saw friends struggling to have a baby, the Christian band Gungor wrote asong titled Beautiful Things.
“All this pain
I wonder if I'll ever find my way,
I wonder if my life could really change, at all.
All this earth,
Could all that is lost ever be found?
Could a garden come out from this ground, at all?
You make beautiful things.
You make beautiful things out of the dust.
You make beautiful things,
You make beautiful things out of us.”
Wilma Derksen—and countless other people of faith—have come to believe that is true.