Joseph was dealt a bad hand in life by most standards: Betrayed by his own brothers, sold into slavery, taken far from home with little hope of returning, falsely accused of rape, wrongly imprisoned and then, heaping insult on top of injury, forgotten by the cupbearer he helped free who promised to seek clemency on his behalf.
When our worst-case scenarios happen we are forced to confront the question of evil head-on: “If God is good why doesn’t He do something about the evil in the world?”
As we wrestle with this question, as I have for the past several months (read Unforgiven for the back story), peace can be found in these Biblical truths.
Truth #1: We have an enemy.
If this were not so we would have no need for a Savior.
In fact, our Savior warns that our enemy “comes to steal, kill and destroy.” (John 10:9) You know he is at work wherever you find broken hearts, broken bodies, broken spirits, broken relationships, broken trust, broken confidence…and broken lives.
Joseph experienced all of these, yet God did not rescue him as we might expect a loving God to do:
- God did not lift Joseph from the pit.
- He did not smite the traders who enslaved him.
- He did not expose the lies of Pharaoh’s wife to spare him prison.
- He did not whisper to the cupbearer of his promise to intercede with Pharaoh on Joseph’s behalf.
In fact, the only thing Scripture tells us God did was this:
The Lord was with Joseph.
Genesis 39:2, 5, 21
Terrible things happen as collateral damage in a fallen world, and even worse, as intentional acts by people fully given over to evil. Looking evil in the eye is terrifying and can cause us to quickly lose heart. Jesus knew this:
In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.
Truth #2: Where the Spirit of Love is there is Freedom.
So why does God allow evil in the first place? In His omniscience He addressed this problem right up front; it can be found in Chapter 3 of Genesis, and it’s called The Fall.
I hear your heels tapping. I realize that in the face of tragedy it seems inadequate to point to what you may consider to be “a folk tale about the first man and woman” as the source of universal truth (because we all know Adam and Eve predated the pen and paper, not to mention the advent of social media, so how could their story be preserved or true?)
And yet, no other explanation will do.
The only way I can get my head around it is to employ a parenting paradigm. Whether you have children or not, imagine with me that you created a home with your children in mind. Even before you birthed them, you designed it with and for love of them, so they could spend a lifetime discovering and delighting in it all, and thus experience your boundless, unconditional love for them.
Perfect. Or so it seems. Yet, no matter how wonderful it is, if you do not offer your children the ability to leave, they are no more than slaves. There is simply no getting around this. And if they are not free, then whatever affection exists between you is not love.
Love is a decision and it must be reciprocal: freely given and freely received. Any break in that infinite cycle cannot be love, and ultimately, it cannot be good.
So as a loving parent you open the door and give your children the freedom to go. Of course, you hope they can see what you see: that there is absolutely no reason or need for them to depart from the safety and beauty and comfort you offer them.
Yet, the universal and individual story of humanity is that we are rebels at heart. As soon as we see the door open we walk right through, without exception. And that is where we now find ourselves, east of Eden.
Truth #3: Jesus suffered the worst-case scenario in your place.
God knows what our hearts are prone to forget: the ultimate worst-case scenario is to continue our separation from Him for eternity.
Jesus’ suffering and agony on the cross were physical, but even more so they were spiritual. As He took on your sins and mine, He stepped into the abyss, experiencing the ultimate, infinite agony of eternal separation from God for you and for me. In so doing, he opened a path for us to return home again, forever.
When we accept Jesus’ offer of salvation no earthly scenario, no matter how evil, has the power to deliver the true worst-case scenario to our lives:
Can anything ever separate us from Christ’s love? Does it mean he no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity, or are persecuted, or hungry, or destitute, or in danger, or threatened with death? (As the Scriptures say, “For your sake we are killed every day; we are being slaughtered like sheep.”) No, despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us.
Truth #4: God is Sufficient
Throughout everything Joseph suffered he experienced the presence of the Lord, and he endured. As he learned to lean on the Lord in all things, God began a good work in him, using what others intended to break him to remake him, turning the precocious, boastful young man into a humble, wise and obedient servant of the Lord. God’s sufficiency in Joseph’s life is apparent in his reconciliation with his brothers:
Then the brothers went in person to him, threw themselves on the ground before him and said, “We’ll be your slaves.”
Joseph replied, “Don’t be afraid. Do I act for God? Don’t you see, you planned evil against me but God used those same plans for my good, as you see all around you right now—life for many people.
Unless we keep our eyes fixed on Jesus we will fall into despair when we fall into the pit in our own lives. In such times we must remember that God doesn’t fix broken things; He creates entirely new and more glorious ones, intended to save not just us — but if we allow Him to use our suffering — many others as well: