It’s a painful story to read if ever there were one: a boy adored by his dad and despised by his brothers, a man betrayed by family and sold into slavery, a slave rising in power to the second highest in command, then thrust into jail unjustly.
Joseph’s story is littered with pain, hardship, turmoil, blessings, and just about everything in between. My heart wants to break for him as I read his account, yet it has a lilt to it, a commentary available to those of us reading about him centuries later that wasn’t offered to him at the time.
The Lord was with Joseph so that he prospered, and he lived in the house of his Egyptian master.” Genesis 39:2
From the time he put him in charge of his household and of all that he owned, the Lord blessed the household of the Egyptian because of Joseph. The blessing of the Lord was on everything Potiphar had, both in the house and in the field.” Genesis 39:5
The warden paid no attention to anything under Joseph’s care, because the Lord was with Joseph and gave him success in whatever he did.” Genesis 39:23
“The Lord was with Joseph.” “The Lord blessed the household of the Egyptian because of Joseph.” It’s these backside commentaries that draw me forward into Joseph’s story, a promise that God was with him and a foreshadowing that something good was about to happen.
But the reality is, Joseph didn’t “see” those commentaries. He didn’t psychically see God with him, and he lived in a time before the coming of the Holy Spirit, so perhaps he didn’t really know that God was still with him, even in the pit of a well or on the trek to a foreign country after his brothers sold him, or while sitting in jail, or in many other situations.
He didn’t have a copy of the verses above since they weren’t penned yet. He simply knew his life.
Just like you and me.
It reminds me of a story I heard long ago. I’ll butcher the retelling of it, but it goes something like this:
An old man’s son broke his leg. The townspeople said he was cursed.
War broke out. The son couldn’t fight because of his leg, so he stayed home while all of the other men went to battle, many of whom never returned. The townspeople said the man was blessed.
The man’s horse ran away. The townspeople said he was cursed.
The horse ended up finding a herd of wild horses, which followed the horse back to the man’s house. The townspeople said he was blessed.
The story continues, the labels of blessing and curses alternating throughout. This story resonates deep because I long to put a label on things: my new job is good, getting divorced is bad. But life doesn’t operate so succinctly with “good” or “bad” labels for everything, for even with Joseph, the things we would quickly label as bad, God deemed good. Stop and reread that.
The things we would quickly label as bad, God deemed good.
I think Joseph would have done himself in if he spent all of his time trying to figure out the label to each situation he found himself in. Rather than deciding which points had “bad” stamped across them, he remained faithful.
Again: he remained faithful in the good times and bad, which perhaps were one in the same, or more accurately, intricately woven together. If you’re familiar with Joseph’s story, you know he ultimately saved his family’s life when he provided for them during the years of famine. But even Joseph knew that wouldn’t have been possible had it not been for God’s presence with him AND for the times we so quickly want to write a bold “BAD” by: jail, slavery, false allegations, betrayal and more.
We, like Joseph, don’t have the luxury of seeing the commentaries that go along with our stories, those God-eye views that us non-gods can’t possess.
I imagine this means something different to all of us. To me, it paints pictures with grays rather than mere blacks and whites. It means the challenge to recognize that crazy hard times can bring something crazy good, even if the crazy good is a refining of our outlook, our thinking, or our very souls.
One truth I’ve recently discovered lends itself strongly to this life without commentary attitude, this ceasing to label and instead living faithfully. It’s highly personal and isn’t the point of this blog, but I’ll share it just as an example. You know I’m going through an ugly divorce, a situation I long to put a big BAD across the file tab. But even in this “bad,” here’s my reality: it took getting divorced to know how deeply I am loved. I ask you: could you label that as BAD? Me, neither.
So I’m taking the Joseph challenge and am trying to stop with the labels, the Stacy-determinations of if God is for me or against me, and instead I want to remain faithful and trust His goodness. Always.