Sunday, February 4, 2018

“OH, THAT’S BAD!” “NO, THAT’S GOOD”

Pardon the levity when it comes to Joseph of the book of Genesis, but on one level, his story could almost be told as one of those worn-out comedy sketches that you all have heard: 

“Joseph’s father made him a special coat of many colors to show him that he loved him.”
“Oh, that’s good.”
 
“No, that’s bad, because it made his brothers jealous of him.”
“Oh, that’s bad.”
 
“No, that’s good, because God gave Joseph some dreams that told him that one day his brothers would bow down to him.”
“Oh, that’s good.”
 
“No, that’s bad, because then his brothers hated him and threw him into a pit and planned on killing him.”
“Oh, that’s bad.”
 
“No, that’s good, because the Lord rescued him out of the pit.”
“Oh, that’s good.”
 
“No, that’s bad, because the brothers sold him to some slave traders.”
“Oh, that’s bad.”
 
“No, that’s good, because a rich guy from Egypt bought Joseph and put him in charge of everything that he owned.”
 
“Oh, that’s good.”
“No, that’s bad, because the rich guy’s wife had a thing for Joseph, and when Joseph refused her advances, she falsely accused him of rape, and Joseph was thrown in prison.” 

Bad Turned Into Good
I could go on and on in this manner through the rest of the life of Joseph, but the hackneyed jokes start to wear a little thin.


Nevertheless, this pattern actually does describe quite well the life of Joseph. In fact, Joseph himself summed up his life in this way when his brothers did eventually bow down to Joseph on the throne.

“When you sold me into slavery, you meant it for bad,” Joseph told his brothers, “but God meant it for good.”

In the end, Joseph understood that the difficulties that he had gone through had actually been part of God’s plan from the beginning. He told his brothers that all that had happened to him, even those things that had been of evil intent, had occurred in order that “many lives would be preserved and kept alive.” 

Waiting for the Good to Come
This is quite an amazing realization. I do not know how many years it had been for Joseph, during which he seemed to go from one hopeless situation to the next. He was threatened with murder by his own brothers, sold into slavery, falsely accused of rape, and then thrown into prison because of this bogus charge. We know that his time in the dungeon of the prison was at least more than two years. The entire series of events cost him at the least more than a decade of his life.

Nor do I know that, if at the time that Joseph was experiencing all of these difficulties, he knew that God was going to eventually make things all work out for the best. He may have. After all, in the years of his youth, he had those dreams of the time when he would see his brothers bowing down to him. These dreams turned out to be actual predictions of what would eventually come about, but we do not know if Joseph realized this during all of those years.

After so many years of things going from bad to worse, we do not know if Joseph finally gave up any notion of hope. If so, it is not difficult to see how this could be. If he did not see God’s plan when he was in the midst of the pit of the prison in Egypt, what God ultimately intended eventually did become evident to him. When God’s entire purpose for the life of Joseph was revealed, he was able to look back on his life and understand that even in the bad things that had happened to him, God had eventual good intentions.

Bad, Bad, Bad
At some level, we can all relate to this in our own lives although I would be very surprised if any of us could tell stories about things that happened to us that would compare to what happened to Joseph. None of us have been thrown into a cistern by our brothers to be sold into slavery. We have not experienced what it was to languish in yet another pit in the prison of Egypt.

Nevertheless, we may have our own stories of woe. Sudden disasters have come also to many of us. House fires, sudden medical emergencies, severe accidents. At times, some people suffer not only one trial of living, but must endure through a series of them.

“Bad luck comes in threes,” they say.

We all ask the question, “Why?”

“Why are these things happening to me? I was told that God loves me and has a wonderful plan for my life! If that is true, where is this wonderful plan?”

No doubt Joseph asked these questions as well. Dreams of sheaves of grain and of sun, moon and stars aside, things were not going well for Joseph. It was not until the completed story had been told that Joseph could look back on the entirety of his life and see God’s hand at every step. 

Peering Ahead to the Good
The story of Joseph may be unusual in its severity, but it is far from unusual in principle. I am confident that every single one of us can relate to it in some way, for we all have suffered unexplained difficulties or disasters of one sort or another in our lives.

In Joseph’s case, it was only after all things had worked out to their conclusions that he was able to see how God was working in every aspect of his life. We do not know what level of despair or what level of confidence that he may have experienced during the times of the trials.

If it was indeed true that he had had strong confidence in the dreams that he had as a lad, those visions of the future would have helped him go through all of the difficult times. He could have always looked to the end—to the goal and to the purpose of it all. This would have helped him. Perhaps he did have this confidence; or perhaps he suffered great depression. We do not know for certain one way or the other. 

Promises of Good in the Midst of Bad
But what we can know for certain is how we view the plan of God in our own lives. We can know that God will make all things, good and bad, work out for our own ultimate benefit.

Many Christians do not realize this. Many people, in going through difficulties in their lives, come to the conclusion that God (if there even is a God), has forgotten about them.

“If God truly cared about me, then I would not be having all of this trouble,” they say.

This statement is a recipe for despair. This attitude is formula for depression.

If you are a believer in Jesus Christ, you do not need to live like this. We can know that God is working behind the scenes and orchestrating events in ways that we would never expect. Joseph may have had his dreams that may have given him a sense of hope, but we have something much more secure than a couple of enigmatic dreams. We have the firm word of God: 

And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. (1 Peter 5:10 ESV) 

Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace.
In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. (Ephesians 6:14-17 NIV) 

In the same way the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words; and he who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because he intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.
And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. (Romans 8:26-28 NAS) 

Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.
So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. (2 Corinthians 4:16-18 NAS) 

It’s No Joke
I have one last segment to the “That’s Bad/That’s Good” series. It goes like this: 

“Jesus was put to death on a cross.”
“Oh, that’s bad.”
“No that’s good, because he died there and rose again from the dead so that we also may live.”
“Oh, that’s good.”
“Yes, that is good, It is very, very good!”

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