But Joseph said to them, Do not be afraid! Am I in the place of God? 20 Even though you intended to do harm to me, God intended it for good, in order to preserve a numerous people, as he is doing today. 21 So have no fear; I myself will provide for you and your little ones. In this way he reassured them, speaking kindly to them. (Genesis 50:19-21, NRSV)
The above passage comes from the saga of Joseph. Joseph’s tale encompasses the later half of the book of Genesis and is deeply disturbing for its fratricide, conspiracy and injustice. Joseph’s life is shaped by all of these horrible acts in his life. He is left for dead (by his own brothers), sold into slavery (by his brothers), taken into Egypt, accused of rape by his Master’s wife, locked in a prison and forgotten. The writers of Genesis overwhelmingly show the heartache and pain that occurs in the life of Joseph.
The truth of the matter is that Joseph’s story (although heightened and intense for all of the above factors), is not that far removed from the tumult of our own lives. There are times in our life that we feel assaulted by the circumstances and situations that bombard us. Sometimes they are family related and other times they are financial. Sometimes they are psychological and other times our health is under attack. However the trials of our life unfold, we like Joseph, feel totally beaten down and wounded as a result of the vicissitudes of life.
During the moments of trial and challenge, we as Christians do what I believe Joseph did…pray for meaning and purpose. The struggle for meaning is an existential truth, it is ever-present. It’s just most strongly felt during times of trial and great pain. We seek to know why we are facing these challenges, and what we can learn from these trial moments. That struggle often times leads us to peculiar places: “God is punishing us”, “the devil is busy,” or “God is enacting” become our mantras to find meaning.
Despite the nature of these struggles, the above text gives us insight as to how we wrestle with meaning. For if it is true that God is in charge and has control of all aspects of life and the universe itself, then what happens in our life is not devoid of meaning. Nor are the trials we experience merely reflections of God’s wrath or the devil’s ingenuity. Those answers are ‘one dimensional’ and don’t convey a real struggle in faith to find God’s wisdom. (It isn’t that these explanations are ‘true’ or somehow ‘lack faith’. These explanations are just insufficient.)
Instead, struggling in faith seeks God in the midst of the struggles of life. Joseph states a most profound truism in the faith: “even though you intended to do harm to me, God intended it for good.” At the end of the day, our faith believes in the goodness of God and God’s plans for our life. Life itself is messy, confusing and complicated, but that doesn’t mean that God plans those evil acts and destructive machinations for your demise. Faith screams that “in the messiness of life, God is up to something!” It is through the messiness that goodness is still felt and sought by the faithful. Life’s circumstances can muddy the waters and complicate the issues, but God’s good plans are enacted in that messiness.
Praise God that the messiness is not eternal (no matter how continual the assaults of life occur)! In the moments of life’s interlude between the storms is the space we find for reflection and examination. Brief and fleeting though they may be, these ‘tween’ times are spaces and places for faith seeking understanding. When the storm calms down, the ‘tween time is the ‘midnight hour’ or the prayer closet moments that serve to promote clarity in the midst of storms or just before the challenge. It is in the ‘tween’ time after being elevated in Egypt, that Joseph arrives at some meaning for his struggles. Through reflecting on all of the experiences of Joseph’s life that he finally arrives at the true purpose of the trials and tribulations of life. All of it was designed for him to live into the purpose of his life. (in Joseph’s case, it was to be in the position of power to enact mercy to the nations during times of drought and famine.)
I submit that only through the careful reflection, in ‘tween times, on the trials and circumstances of life can we arrive at the meaning (not the reason) for our difficulties. The reasons for our difficulties are never as clear to understand and filled with infinite possibilities of choice and change. However, the meaning for our pain is only understood in retrospect and often is singular in understanding. Through struggle, you recognize that the struggle of faith is not in vain and full of meaning. That meaning almost always serves to lead us toward our purposes.
God is busy enacting his good plans in our life. God’s busy shepherding us through the messiness of life to arrive at our destiny. Simply to begin the work we are charged with performing, we may have to rely on the vision of truth in God’s word and the prayers of the righteous just to make it through those trials. But when we do, we find purpose meets opportunity yielding the power of our destiny.