When Joseph’s brothers saw that their father was dead, they said, “What if Joseph bears a grudge against us and pays us back in full for all the wrong which we did to him!” So they sent a message to Joseph, saying, “Your father charged before he died, saying, ‘Thus you shall say to Joseph, “Please forgive, I beg you, the transgression of your brothers and their sin, for they did you wrong. And now, please forgive the transgression of the servants of the God of your father.”’” And Joseph wept when they spoke to him. Then his brothers also came and fell down before him and said, “Behold, we are your servants.” But Joseph said to them, “Do not be afraid, for am I in God’s place? As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive. So therefore, do not be afraid; I will provide for you and your little ones.” So he comforted them and spoke kindly to them.
To an Arminian, this is simply about God using evil for good, rather than causing the evil that He uses. God did not mean what they meant. Rather, God used what they meant, to bring about good, instead.
Here are six comments which explains the Arminian interpretation, in light of Calvinism:
One member of The Society of Evangelical Arminians comments: “This is an example of God turning evil caused by others, not himself, to good. They do the evil freely, and He directs it and fashions it to good. I actually think Joseph’s attempt to encourage his brothers, not to be too hard on themselves, can be reconciled with this view, that Joseph did not literally mean they were not responsible, but was encouraging them in light of the fact of God using it for good.”
Dave Hunt points out: “Furthermore, the Bible does not say that God decreed that Joseph’s brothers would hate him, desire to kill him, sell him into Egypt, and then lie to their father. It is clear that their evil intent came from jealous hearts. God foreknew their hearts and restrained and channeled their wicked desire to accomplish His will.” (Debating Calvinism, p.52)
Arminian, Roger Olson, comments: “Arminians are well aware of Calvinist arguments based upon the Genesis narrative where Joseph’s brothers meant his captivity for evil but God meant it for good (Gen 50:20). They simply do not believe this proves that God ordains evil that good may come of it. Arminians believe God permits evil and brings good out of it. Otherwise, who is the real sinner?” (Arminian Theology, p.100)
One member of The Society of Evangelical Arminians explains: “Just because God did something great with a bad situation, it doesn’t mean that God needed the bad situation to do it. Do they really believe God is so weak that He needs bad things?”
Another member of The Society of Evangelical Arminians explains: “I think this is one of the darkest and most unbiblical and unloving and unkind fruits of consistent Calvinism: The claim that whatever suffering occurs was exactly what God wanted for a good purpose.”
One member of The Society of Evangelical Arminians offers the following: “Normally, when one person does an action and means something for it and another person who does not do the action also means something for the action, there is no suggestion that the person who did not do the action somehow really did do it or irresistibly caused the other person to do it. If my son chooses to sign up for baseball, and means to have fun by it, and I mean for him to learn discipline by it, it does not mean that I made him sign up or that I irresistibly caused him to sign up or somehow irresistibly caused him to desire to sign up. He means it in the way appropriate for the person actually doing the action, and I mean it in a way appropriate to someone who has authority over the situation and power to stop the action. I’m simply taking what he desires and using it in a way that good may come of it. Here is another analogy: My son meant to go to college to party, but I meant for him to go to college to get an education. Does the parallel nature of the statement have us both intending the same thing? Obviously not! Another point that is lost among Calvinists is that God didn’t need for any of this to happen, since God could have easily brought Joseph into power in Egypt a different way, and going to Egypt at all was no necessity upon God, that is, a God who controls the seas, the rains or what have you. There is no necessity at all. Rather, God is simply using the situation to His advantage, in order that His will would be achieved regardless. In other words, what God ultimately did was act in a way that was partially contingent on the free will actions of various human agents involved. In summary, it is perfectly natural–and indeed, the normal meaning–for the performer of an action to intend an action in one way, as the originator of the action, and one who has power, to intend it in a different way, that does not involve any instigation or causing of that action. Normally, when one person does an action, and means something for it, and another person who does not do the action, also means something different for the action, there is no suggestion that the person who did not do the action, somehow really did do it, or irresistibly caused and instigated the other person to do it. He takes account of what the actor wants to do, and then responds and reacts to that, and decides to allow it and permit it for another intention. Perhaps he might direct certain aspects of the events to bring about the result that he intends. But he doesn’t instigate the evil. I think it is odd that the Joseph story gets brought up so much by Calvinists because it is also pointed to by Arminians as a good illustration of the Arminian position. Both camps appeal to it. I personally think it is a great example of the Arminian position (God using the evil others do and purposing it for good) and fits the Arminian position better.”