Almost everyone I have communicated with this week shared some kind of struggle, hardship, or heartache with me. It has been one of those weeks where I feel overwhelmed by the amount of pain in this world and wonder about its purpose.
As I pondered the struggles currently going on in the lives around me and thought through the trials this life has thrown at my own family, Joseph’s story of suffering before glory stood as a perfect reminder. Joseph’s story foreshadows God’s saving work that would ultimately be accomplished in Jesus Christ. It is a picture for all generations of how Jesus would complete his saving work–suffering before glory, rejection before acceptance, humiliation leading to exaltation, and descending into the lowest pit before being raised to the highest pinnacle (Guthrie, p. 239).
Joseph was violently attacked by his brothers, sold into slavery, and later ended up in prison. He knew what it was like to suffer, and yet his suffering was not wasted and meaningless. Throughout his hardship, Joseph knew God was with him and he knew God was working in him and through him. “In the land of his affliction, in the middle of the struggle, in the heart of the darkness, Joseph was confident that God was at work” (Guthrie, p. 244). In his darkest days, not a hint of bitterness was portrayed, and I saw Joseph grow up from an arrogant boy to a humble, servant-hearted, and wise man. God perfected and equipped Joseph for ministry through what he suffered.
At the proper time, God rose Joseph to a high place: the minister of all of Egypt. After he interpreted Pharaoh’s dream and predicted a famine, he went from the pit of prison to the palace of Pharaoh. During the famine, people came from all over the world to be fed by Joseph. When his brothers came to him for food, Joseph said, “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.” (Gen. 50:20).
Jesus could have said the same words to the ones who conspired against him, beat him, and nailed him to the cross: “You intended to harm me, but God intended it all for good. You think this was all your plan, but it is God who has brought me to this place so that I can accomplish a great and good purpose, so that I can give life to all those who come to me” (Guthrie, p. 246).
All of us have seen tragedy, injustice, and heartache in this life. However, keep in mind that nothing and no one can derail God’s plan for your life. Can you see that God did not abandon you but that he has been there with you in the pit, planning to use it to accomplish something good in your life?
Guthrie says, “God has a purpose and a design in what is happening to us from the beginning, and even though what is happening to us might not be good, God intends it all for our ultimate good” (p. 250).
That might be hard to swallow. Especially if you currently find yourself in a really hard place and can’t fathom what good could possibly come from your current suffering. If that is you, look at the one Joseph was always meant to point us to–our saviour Jesus Christ.
“When we look at the cross, we see the most innocent victim, the most immense suffering, the greatest injustice, the most hurtful betrayal, the greatest physical and emotional agony. Surely putting the pure Son of God on the cross was the greatest evil of all time.
But was it not also the greatest good ever accomplished? Because of the cross, guilty sinners like you and me don’t get what we deserve-punishment. Instead, we get what we don’t deserve-the mercy and forgiveness of God. When we look at the cross, it fills us with confidence that God is sovereign over everything-including evil and suffering. And if he can intend the evil and suffering of the cross of Christ for such amazing good, we can begin to believe that he can and will use what is evil and may seem senseless in our lives for good.” (Guthrie, p. 250).
Sometimes, like Joseph, we get to see the purpose of our suffering in this life. Other times, we may never know how God is using our loss for good. But that doesn’t mean he doesn’t have a purpose.
“We know that for those who love God all things work together for good.” (Rom. 8:28)
Your turn: We’d like to believe that if we belong to God and we are living lives that are pleasing to God, then his presence in our lives will protect us from significant suffering. What aspects of Joseph’s experience, as well as that of other people in the Bible, help us to see that obeying God does not necessarily protect us from suffering? Or, are there any experiences in your life that, although painful or hurtful, you can already see God using for good in your life?