Genesis 50:15-21 (NIV)
15 When Joseph’s brothers saw that their father was dead, they said, “What if Joseph holds a grudge against us and pays us back for all the wrongs we did to him?” 16 So they sent word to Joseph, saying, “Your father left these instructions before he died: 17 ‘This is what you are to say to Joseph: I ask you to forgive your brothers the sins and the wrongs they committed in treating you so badly.’ Now please forgive the sins of the servants of the God of your father.” When their message came to him, Joseph wept.
18 His brothers then came and threw themselves down before him. “We are your slaves,” they said.
19 But Joseph said to them, “Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God? 20 You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. 21 So then, don’t be afraid. I will provide for you and your children.” And he reassured them and spoke kindly to them.
The story of Joseph is one of my favorite stories in the bible. There's a little bit of everything in it--drama, suspense, romance, comedy, and this sweeping undercurrent of a compelling underdog story. I think, more than anything, I resonate with Joseph's undying resolve. He manages not only to survive in horrific conditions; he thrives in them. He suffers utter catastrophes, and yet, he emerges, every time, greater than he was before the suffering. It may be tempting to think of suffering as the catalyst for Joseph's emergence. I don't believe that is the case. I would not want to give suffering that kind of privilege. I do think, however, that there is something to be learned from Joseph's suffering.
In one of my favorite passages in the bible, Joseph makes a statement that summarizes his story. He is reunited with the brothers that almost killed him and sold him into slavery. Upon their reunion, Joseph is second in command of all of Egypt, and at a certain point, their father dies. The brothers are terrified that Joseph will kill them now that their father is gone. Joseph says something that is incomparably wise and profound. "You intended to harm me," Joseph says in Genesis 50:20, "but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives." You see what he does there? He both acknowledges the harm, and he praises God for what God does with the hurt. He acknowledges that God has transformed the tragedy to triumph and given purpose to the pain.
There's something there from which we can learn a valuable lesson. Far too often, we tend to "stoicize" our pain. Far too often, either we try to deny our hurts, or we valorize the suffering. The suffering is bad, and we need to be honest about that. But the suffering isn't the end of the story. God is both present to us in our pain and is active in bringing about beauty from our broken places. Joseph lived long enough to see that pain transformed, and we can learn something from Joseph's endurance and enduring trust. We can see God use our hurts and harms, not as goods, but ultimately for our good. It, however, requires something from us. We must trust God every step of the way--from the pit all the way to the palace. Our hurts are our hurts, and they are real. If we trust God with the worst life has to offer, God is faithful to use what life has meant for harm to bring about tremendous good, for us and those with whom we are connected.
Where am I currently hurting?
How am I allowing God to be present to me in my pain?
Am I willing to trust God with my pain?
O Lord, my God, in moments of pain, I confess, it is so easy to grow distant from you. I am tempted to try to solve my problems on my own and to keep that space of my life hidden from you. Help me, O Lord, to live this life with you. Live in me, and heal the many hurts I experience. Be to me, as you were to Joseph. Bring beauty out of my brokenness, help out of hurt, and purpose out of my pain. Be glorified in and by my life, and transform the lives of others through me. In Jesus’ name, I pray. Amen.
Scripture taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version ® NIV ®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2014 by Biblica, Inc.®. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.