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Mable sat in my office with her head hung down. She could not imagine things ever changing. She just heard the worst news of her life–her husband, Biff, was caught in an affair.
Though she did not ask for it, the pain foisted itself upon her. Mable’s life changed with one email. Picking up the pieces seemed impossible. Taking the next steps were out of the question.
It will be many days before she regains her spiritual senses, as the numbness wears off. It will be weeks before she will be able to process her life through a more profound and intense theological grid.
One of the more common passages for people in pain is at the end of the book of Genesis. You know the story. It’s about Joseph and the ordeal he went through with his family.
At one moment, he was the happy, innocent son of a great man. In the next moment, he was looking up from a pit where his brothers tossed him. He went from light to darkness in a flash.
Unaware is how heartbreak usually comes into our lives. Though the enemy is always plotting against us, we never know the schemes until it knocks us off our feet. This shock is the hard part.
I do not know how long it took Joseph to figure out things. The Bible doesn’t tell us when he came to terms with his suffering. I’m sure he was like us–vulnerable, fearful, and discouraged.
We do know how he thought about these things near the end of his difficulty. We all have read his summary statement. Most of us have used it, hoping to encourage others.
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. – Genesis 50:20
No doubt this passage is far easier to teach others than to apply personally. When my life is not going the way I want it to go, it is hard for me to live out practically the words of Joseph.
If Mable wants to come to rest in Christ, she will have to navigate through this passage. This verse is like a gateway to a deeper understanding and application of God.
Let’s take it apart and examine the pieces. My hope is for you to see where you are, where you need to go, and how you can live in the “missional goodness” that Joseph experienced.
This verse has a definite beginning, middle, and end. This pattern is how all your problems are divided–a problem, a reason, and a solution.
To progress through the pain, you must understand these elements while thinking through how you are to proceed. If you become bogged down at any point, other than the solution, your life will be difficult.
It doesn’t matter what your problem is, the progression is the same. Let’s suppose you get a bad grade on a test. That is the problem. What needs to happen at that moment is your mind should transition to the reason, and then the solution: the Lord. From there you begin to think like Him.
These are just some of the questions to think about as you mature through the solution. If you can do this regarding the day-to-day, mundane irritations of your life, you will have prepared your heart for the more significant problems.
If you are tripped up by the little annoyances, you’re in no spiritual shape to handle the more substantial problems. The bad news is the huge issues are coming your way. This truth should motivate you to figure out how to progress through all of your difficulties.
As for you, you meant evil against me.
The problem is always the same in that it is evil and its purpose is sinister. The enemy has one strategy, which is to bring evil into your life, hoping to render you useless.
It does not matter who you are or where you live; there is one goal: stop all people everywhere from making God’s name great. The devil is anti-Christ, and he and his compadres can only think one way.
The singular purpose of evil is straightforward: evil is meant to be evil. Its intent is for no other reason. When someone does something unkind to you, be assured that evil is the intent.
Joseph did not flinch. Though he was talking to his blood kin, he was clear and theological about what they meant for him. It is essential that you understand this. It was evil, nothing more, nothing less.
Perhaps you’re the child of parents who have harmed you. Though they may have repented, what they did was evil. Maybe your spouse has hurt you and later said, “I’m sorry.”
While an apology can be helpful, the evil is complete, and it was meant to be just what it was. You don’t need to upload it to anything else. Unfortunately, when harm comes to some individuals, they over-upload it.
If you over-upload your problems, you’re going to spin out of control. What I mean by “over-uploading” is how some people over-analyze or over-interpret the evil meant for them.
I’m sure you have your list of “improper uploaded thoughts” about the evil that has come to you. We all are tempted to do it. How about this: The reason bad things happen to you is that you live in an evil world, and sometimes the evil is meant for you.
The evil that comes to you is not because you’re good, bad, ugly, weak, weird, ignorant, or whatever other reason you want to think of to explain why evil happens to you. It happens because you live in a sinful world.
The danger is when you over-analyze the evil and get bogged down in the problem. You end up running scared, securing the hatches, hoping to make sure it doesn’t happen again. And when it does happen again, you redouble your efforts.
You cannot protect yourself from all the evil in this world. It will happen to you. Though I think Joseph went through many nights of discouragement, when he was talking to his brothers, he was quite mature, theological, and matter-of-fact.
Our culture cannot progress past the pain like Joseph did because there is no “but God” in their worldview. The best they can do is medicate their problems through their drugs-of-choice.
Bogging down in the problem like our culture does is not an option. You have God who is the Lord over all matters. He is the only right answer for the evil in your life. You must move on to Him, rather than choosing to spiral into the morass of your problems.
You meant evil against me, but God meant it for good.
There are always reasons for your pain, and the Christian is the only one who can come close to understanding these purposes. Though God will not reveal all the reasons for the pain in your life, you at least have a starting point.
That starting point is hope. The Christian always has confidence in God. You know that God is higher than your problems and He will make a way through your questions. While our culture gets stuck in their problems, you can transcend them as you make your way to the sovereign Lord.
It’s a beautiful thing after a Christian gets knocked off his feet, he is still able to reorient his thinking to God and what the Lord is up to in his life. The sufferer can do this even while he is hurting (Philippians 4:11-13).
The progression through pain is not like going from one stage to the other. These stages overlap each other; you’re still reeling from the blow while trusting God. You believe God while in your suffering, not after the pain ceases.
You could even be tempted to struggle with your pain decades later. In some sense, the pain will never go away until God wipes away all of your tears in your eternal future (Revelation 21:4). You will always carry the death of Christ in your mortal bodies.
We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. – 2 Corinthians 4:8-10
Suffering is a permanent human condition (Philippians 1:29; John 12:24). Our culture is so “health and wealth centered,” you can feel like an anomaly if you are not like them.
Their worldview is an illusion, my friend. The Bible teaches another gospel–if any man comes after me, let him deny himself (Luke 9:23). If you’ve experienced death, divorce, molestation, physical debilitation, or some other permanent pain, you know this. The mature Christian is not looking for an escape from pain necessarily, but a purpose in suffering.
That reason always begins with God. Joseph was right: “but God.” He was God-centered. The pain was not the center of his worldview, and it did not give him his interpretations.
God was in the middle of his world, and God was the lens through which he discerned what was happening to him. This perspective should be the same for every Christian.
You are not defined by what has happened to you, but by the God you serve. The word “Christian” means “Christ follower.” You are a Christ follower, not a pain follower. Here is a way to test yourself on this:
What characterizes your conversation: the trouble you’re going through or the God you’re following?
No doubt, Joseph was following God, and it was the Lord who was stabilizing him through his trials. That is what he told his brothers, and this is what God wants you to learn.
To bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.
There should always be a “missional thrust” about your life. Missional is the directional force of the gospel: Christ left His place to come to you so you could find redemption, to help others get to Him. The gospel is strikingly and remarkably others-centered.
This purpose was the reason and the solution for Joseph’s problems. Though his brothers meant it for evil, God meant it for good so that a proper mission could come to pass. This divine purpose was the rescue of a group of people.
God made a promise (covenant) to Abraham regarding his people (Genesis 15:1-6). Joseph knew this. Abraham was his great-granddad. He knew about the promise, and he understood himself to be right in the middle of God’s activity.
This truth is one of the astounding things about how Joseph lived out his sanctification. He was a God-centered man, which enabled him to have a missional vision.
A God-centered man will always be thinking more about God and less about himself (Matthew 22:36-40), which is the total opposite of the person who is stuck in or centered on his problems.
This Christian obligation does not mean you won’t get knocked down or be hurt. We all are knocked down. What it does say is though life knocks you down, you do not stay down because you know there is a divine purpose in your adversity.
I would assume Joseph cried many nights as a young teenager, away from his parents. I would think he always carried pain in his soul because of how things turned out for him.
But it appears there was an overarching and stronger theme to his life. He believed God was in his mess, working through his mess, and was going to use it for his good and God’s glory.
Joseph put the accent mark on God, rather than on his problems. He was not a problem-centered man. He had a mature understanding of who God was and what God could do through him, which is where you need to be.
If you want to be God-centered, I recommend you begin with God, not with your problems. When people come to counseling, they want to know how to alleviate their problems.
I understand this perspective. When pain comes into my life, my first response is how to stop it. That’s not a bad strategy. But if you’re going to be an overcomer, you need something more than temporary solutions.
It could be your pain will never end. It could be your pain is dependent on other people changing, e.g., your son, your spouse, your parents. While it is wise to think about how to end the pain, it is life-changing to think about what God wants to do to and through you because of and in spite of the pain.
The pain that carried Joseph to Egypt had a God-centered purpose. He knew this, and it was that kind of thinking that buoyed him through the disappointment. Too much focus on your problems is like riding an anchor to the bottom of the sea.
Thinking God’s thoughts will lift you up. God will cause you to transcend your problems. If you want to read more about this and how to respond practically, please read the articles that I embedded into this one for you.