It would be nice if Christian faith were clean, simple, clear — black and white answers to every question. Alas it is not, and often we have to struggle to hold various truths in a holy tension.
Sunday’s lesson from Genesis is challenging in this regard. It is a snippet from the much longer saga of Joseph and his brothers. (The whole story is told in Genesis 37 and Genesis 39-50.) Joseph was the youngest and beloved by his father, Jacob. However, he was hated by his brothers, perhaps for no other reason than being the favorite. The brothers actually plotted to kill Joseph, but Rueben, convinced them that they should not have his blood on their hands, suggesting they throw him down a well, intending to return and rescue him. However, a caravan of Egyptians came by and the brothers saw an opportunity for profit, so they sold their brother into slavery.
The drama continued in Egypt as Joseph ended up in prison, where he had a reputation for interpreting dreams. When the Pharaoh was troubled by a repeated dream that no one could interpret for him, he called for this prisoner to see what he might say and Joseph provided the correct interpretation. (That’s a whole other story I won’t go into here.) He was given a very prominent position in Pharaoh’s household and when there was a famine in Israel, Joseph’s brothers were dispatched to Egypt to buy supplies and it was Joesph that they had to deal with. Joseph knew who they were, but they did not immediately recognize him. When Joseph finally revealed himself, he seeks to allay their fears with the words of Sunday’s lesson. Click here to read it.
The rub comes when Joseph tells his brothers that “I am your brother, Joseph, whom you sold into Egypt. And now do not be distressed, or angry with yourselves, because you sold me here; for God sent me before you to preserve life. For the famine has been in the land these two years; and there are five more years in which there will be neither plowing nor harvest. God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth, and to keep alive for you many survivors. So it was not you who sent me here, but God.”
Remember that Joseph’s being in Egypt was clearly the result of the brother’s malice and sin. Did God do that? Can we attribute such a thing to God simply because something good came from it? Yes, God is able to bring good from every situation. “We know that all things work together for good* for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28)
That does not mean that all things are the will of God. Much of what happens in this life is the result of human sin. That is never the will of Bod. But God can and does redeem out sin and can bring blessings out of that which was not His will.
By prayer we have to hold in tension the conviction that God will accomplish His purpose in our lives and in the world, but also recognizing that God does not simply nullify or overwrite our actions and choices and even our sin. It really does matter that we work at living disciplined Christian lives!
This column appeared in the February 24, 2019 issue of St. John’s eNews. Click here for the complete issue.
If you are reading this at a different time, you may click here for the current eNews.