The last chapters of the Book of Genesis tell the story of Joseph.
Joseph was that self-important young man who so annoyed his brothers with tales of his future importance, that they sold him into slavery in Egypt and pretended to his father that he had been killed by wild animals. In Egypt, by another mischance, he was imprisoned for years on a false accusation of sexual assault.
Freed when a former fellow prisoner recalled his ability to interpret dreams, Joseph became Pharaoh’s right hand man—in the end being used to save his family from perishing in the famine that prevailed in the Middle East at that time.
At the end of it all, Joseph explains to his brothers “Do not be distressed or angry with yourselves because you sold me here; for God sent me before you to preserve life… It was not you who sent me here, but God.”
All of us have some degree of disappointment in our lives. For some of us, the trauma of our disasters leaves us with mental breakdowns, loss of faith, or, less seriously, a ‘chip on our shoulder’ that makes our lives a continual burden, both to ourselves and those who have to live with us.
Others, though, like Joseph, take all that happens to them as the act, not of other people, but of a God who is ever rolling out his great plan for the Universe—a symphony that is going to have its discords and its passages in minor keys, before coming to a triumphant and harmonious climax.
For these others, the Book of Psalms is an endless resource (and by this, I mean the full book with all its angry outbursts, as in the Bible or the Book of Alternative Services, not the pruned version of the 1962 Book of Common Prayer). In addition to praise and thanksgiving, those who receive everything at God’s hand have the right also to question God, to complain, to plead, to feel angry, disappointed, depressed, oppressed or betrayed, as the Psalmist shows so clearly throughout the many different moods of his text.
“My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?”; “Rouse thyself, why sleepest thou, O God?”; “Save me O God, for the waters have come up to my neck”; “When wilt thou comfort me?” and so on. Yet these outpourings of emotion almost always work themselves through, ending in a state of trust, that the God who has saved Israel in the past, will yet come through and save the believer in the future. Our anxieties, our sufferings and our anger turn in the end to acceptance and praise.
Christians believe in a God who has His own mind and His own way of doing things—a personal God, a God who can be argued with, challenged, criticized, pleaded with, questioned and sometimes persuaded. We are not dealing with an impersonal system, a kind of slot machine that delivers us the right product if only we insert the right coins and push the right buttons, as some theologies would suggest. We are dealing with a God whom we trust will come through in the end, as part of a plan that involves a process for our lives much greater than just securing our comfort.
When we learn to receive both the good and bad things of life at God’s hand, it is surprising how often we find that what at one time seemed to be a disaster, from another has become for us an enormous source of direction and growth.
For which may we be truly thankful. Joseph has shown us the way.