“You intended to harm me, but God intended it all for good. He brought me to this position so I could save the lives of many people.” Genesis 50:20 NLT.
When I was a younger man I struggled greatly with losing my hair. It started to thin when I was a senior in high school. By the time I graduated from college I was consoling myself with the fact that I shared this trait with both Officer John McClane and James Bond (well former James Bond anyway)…but then I remembered that saving 200 hostages and keeping international relations secure for all of the Western World gave them a bit of an advantage over a college graduate with 1000 hours running a backhoe and a class B commercial Truck driving license. Neither was I Bruce Willis nor Sean Connery.
I know what you’re thinking, losing your hair does not rank very high on the loss continuum. There are plenty of people who have endured and sustained many a tragedy which makes losing your hair at a young age seem petty and simplistic.
I don’t disagree with this. I myself have been through much worse. But as believers in Christ don’t we sometimes need a reminder that God moves all things for the good of his people who are called according to his purpose? (Romans 8:28) The loss of my hair was not easy. I was young and insecure and have vivid memories of feeling deeply depressed and overcome with inadequacy. I wonder sometimes how often we neglect the needs of others facing a similar loss. Though my struggle may have been rooted in selfishness and self-concern it was nonetheless real and difficult.
When my mother died from a 2 year battle with cancer there was more sadness than I could bear. I struggled greatly with anger and grief beyond anything I’d ever experienced. I was 10 and didn’t understand the whys of life, (not that I do now) let alone the theological implications of Romans 8. Not long before she died I was caught “talking” in the lunch room at a time when we were supposed to be quiet. The penalty was being held in from recess. The teacher, well intended I’m sure, offered us the choice to swear on the Bible. If we swore that we weren’t talking and told the truth that we weren’t talking then we were awarded our subsequent freedom. I was in 5th grade, I loved recess so I swore; my mom died.
Did I kill her?
Not until much later in life did it ever cross my mind to question the methods my teacher used. I only saw my actions as directly correlated to the death of my mother and the death of my mother as punishment from God. This left a deep emotional scar that has taken longer than I could have ever imagined to heal. This healing has also been frustrating because it has insisted that I be patient with my insecurities. Sometimes I wonder what’s harder; trusting Christ through loss or trusting him to love me despite my sin and idolatry.
The “God meant it for good” part of Genesis 50 was always hard for me; truly it still is. I remember being encouraged by Jeremiah 29:11. The idea that God wanted to prosper me and not to harm me was reassuring. Unfortunately, with a little theological twisting, I somehow heard this verse to mean that God would prosper me the way that I wanted him to. Add to this the popular book of the time, The Prayer of Jabez, and the result was an attempt to mold God into my image rather than submitting to his will.
So what does it mean that God meant it for good? What does it mean to “prosper us” or that “all things work for good…to those who are called according to his purpose”? In Genesis 50 we see how the good that God had planned for Joseph was never in relation to his prosperity. It has erroneously been presented that Joseph was bestowed the highest ranking in Egypt and reunited with his brothers and that was the good that God had done in his life. This is an eisegetical error, a reading into the text, and does not show forth the truth of what God promises for those he loves.
We all face evil. Believer and non-believer alike face evil in this world brought forth by our parents Adam and Eve. Almost everyone you talk to won’t deny this; evil exists and settles on us all. So what is the “good”? Maybe better stated, where is God and is he really good?
In Joseph’s case, as in ours, God is interested in 2 things: 1. Fulfilling his eternal decrees (Westminster Confession of Faith Shorter Catechism question 7) “The decrees of God are his eternal purpose, according to the counsel of his will, whereby, for his own glory, he hath foreordained whatsoever comes to pass.” And 2. Redeeming his elect (WCFSC question 20) “God having, out of his mere good pleasure, from all eternity, elected some to everlasting life, did enter into a covenant of grace, to deliver them out of the estate of sin and misery, and to bring them into an estate of salvation by a redeemer.”
This does not sum up God, nor his actions or decrees, but scripture teaches that his plan from the beginning (Genesis 3:15) was to redeem mankind from its accursed estate. If we are wondering where the “good” from God is, look to the promises of God, given to us to redeem us and free us from our bondage of sin. Sometimes this means that God heals and restores; renews and preserves now in this life. Sometimes it means that he says no to our plans and so we learn to trust him more. To some, this lack of temporal healing or restoration might render God impotent, but God is anything but impotent or inactive.
We see in the life of Joseph the reconciliation of relationships and the salvation of many people from starvation and death. Those truly are blessings from God but ultimately the culminating good we see in the types and shadows of the coming Christ revealed to us in the Old Testament is incarnate Christ and the redemption of his beloved. The “good” done to Joseph is a shadow of the Christ, the blessed God incarnate condescending his love to a people for his good pleasure. The Christ, the blessed seed of Abraham, would come from Judah, Joseph’s brother.
Christ, the everlasting God, came down and loved us more than we could ever possibly know. As Tim Keller says we either crown him or crucify him. There is no middle ground. If you are disappointed with God because of loss or grief I urge you to reconsider your expectations of his plans for your life. The plans and purposes of God for his people are not according to their plans but his. His good plans don’t always seem good to us since what God is most concerned with is what is best for us. Rejoice when your idolatry is stripped from you so that you might gain Christ. When the God of creation is revealed in your heart, freeing you from the bondage of sin and death, suffering then comes as a blessing and trials serve as a gift (James 1).
The true good from God is the gift of being drawn to him in body and soul as we slowly begin to understand what Paul means in Philippians 3:8. “8 Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ…” The goodness of God is never defined by human expectations but rather by the love of a Father who is faithful and true.
This promise is rarely sufficient at the time of loss to assuage anguish or grief. Many times what we need is more temporal and substantial: a cup of tea, a prepared meal, someone to shed tears with. This promise will assuage grief, but grief sometimes need time to believe. The providential promises of God restore our brokenness with hope so that we might be reminded and profess with Joseph that what was meant for evil, God works for good. God is always good, working for his people, revealing our sin, while illumining our souls to the salvific work of Christ Jesus to the Glory of God and the good of his people.