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The first 19-years of Joe’s life was the epitome of dysfunction. Then he was saved. It was a fantastic turnaround. He joined a local church and was growing by leaps and bounds as the Lord impassioned him with the excellent gospel adventure. And the church readily embraced him. Joe genuinely loved God. He was experiencing things that were new, wonderful, and radically different than his former manner of life (Ephesians 4:22). It was an exciting time.
Joe also had a wife and children. After things had become a bit tight, they decided Jenni should take a job to help supplement their income. She found an admin job at a local tax firm. It was perfect.
Joe and Jenni were struggling in their marriage, but they figured they were no different from anyone else. They chose not to share their marriage problems with their church. Besides, they loved God, and God loved them; that seemed to be enough.
After nine months into Jenni’s new job, she began an affair with one of the tax guys, as Joe would call him later. They started sleeping together, and within two years Joe and Jenni were divorced. Interestingly, Jenni was awarded the children, while Joe’s life went into the toilet. He came for counseling; we met over a period of a few weeks, during which time Joe eventually blurted out what he only dared to think before:
I am mad at God! There, I said it.
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After listening to Joe for a while, I began sketching out his life, hoping he could visually see what the Lord was up to and how he needed to rethink what was happening to him. The infographics in this chapter represent what I sketched for him during counseling.
Joe needed to come to terms with some things about God. His fundamental theology believed that because he trusted Christ for salvation that God would take care of him. While that is ultimately correct, Joe and God had two different opinions on what taking care of him meant.
Joe knew terrible things happen to people, including Christians, but he never connected this sad truth to his life. Though he expected disappointments, he never thought they would be on the level of what they are in his life.
The infographic above depicts Joe’s practical theology–how he practically responds to God during trials. The primary influence of Joe’s practical theology is from his preferences, hopes, and expectations. The reason Joe blurted out his anger toward God was that he was frustrated with how an omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent God was not giving him the life he hoped to have (Jeremiah 1:5).
If God knows all things–omniscient, can do all things–omnipotent, and is everywhere all the time–omnipresent, why can’t He give me the life I want?
Not being able to reconcile his present circumstance with these three amazing attributes compelled Joe into a self-imposed exile from God and religion.
If God knows all things and if God can do all things, why didn’t He protect me from this hell I am living? Why didn’t He keep these horrible things from happening to me?
Up until this time, Joe was only angry at Jenni, the tax guy, and the judge who granted their divorce. He never dared to think a Sovereign God would not stop what was happening to him.
During his self-imposed quiet time, these big ideas about God began to flood his mind (Psalm 42:7), and the more he tried to move them out of his mind, the more they took his mind captive (2 Corinthians 10:3-6). Finally, he blurted out the actual truth that was in his heart:
God was in this, behind this, aware of this, and allowing all of this. There was no denying it any longer.
It is a trap to think God will not allow pain and suffering in a Christian’s life. Let’s make it more personal: It is wrong to believe God will not allow pain and suffering in your life. Do you think this?
The real question is, “Can you love Him with all of your heart, soul, mind, and strength even when your life is falling apart?” It is one thing to “sign off” on biblical truth, but it’s a radically different thing to find a peace that passes your understanding when personal suffering is crushing the life out of you (Philippians 4:7).
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I began to tell Joe about another Joe (Joseph) who lived many years ago, and how he went through a lot of heartbreak and disappointment (Genesis 39:2). I sketched the “other Joe’s” life similar to the way I depicted Joe’s life.
Joseph loved God with all of his heart, soul, mind, and strength just as my Joe did. Then, all of a sudden, his life went sideways. His brothers dissed him (Genesis 37:18), tossed him into a pit (Genesis 37:20), only to later sell him to a group of tradesmen (Genesis 37:27).
His slave master’s wife also dissed him and had him thrown in jail (Genesis 39:20). Joseph spent 13 years in exile, away from the family he loved. In time, he ascended to the equivalent of Vice President of the country that incarcerated him (Genesis 41:40).
There was a purpose in the madness that the Lord allowed into Joseph’s life.
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What Joseph (and everyone else) did not know was that God was working out His plan in the life of His people. Our loving Father needed a man that He could trust placed in Egypt. God knew there was going to be a famine in Israel, and because He loved Joseph and his family so much, He crafted a fantastic plan to save him and his family. (See the infographic above.)
There were two things our Father could count on: (1) Joseph loved God, which made him the perfect guy to cooperate with His plan, and (2) Joseph’s brothers were a bunch of rascals, which made them the ideal people to facilitate God’s plan.
The Lord took one good man and a bunch of evil men and began crafting a masterful plan to accomplish His purposes for His glory and their benefit. (This is also a narrative that would play out in Gethsemane many years later.)
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Let’s pretend you’re looking at the earth with the Google Earth app. You can zoom in to street-level view, and you can zoom out to where the inhabitants of the planet are not remotely discernible (Isaiah 40:22). With that concept in mind let’s pretend you have zoomed out, spiritually speaking, as far as the human mind can perceive. You are now encompassing all of the time from Genesis to Revelation. What do you see?
You see a plan. You see God’s big picture and what He said He was going to accomplish and that no man or power could overturn His plan (Job 23:13). God created a man and a woman and placed them in the garden of Eden. He commanded them regarding their responsibility to Him (Genesis 2:16-17). Shortly after that, they royally messed up the mandate (Genesis 3:6). Their sin did not deter the Lord.
The Father revealed the future to Adam and Eve as He told them about the heel-biter and the head-crusher (Genesis 3:15). He made a promise that a seed would come forth to secure our redemption. He raised up a family to carry the “seed” that would eventually bring healing to the world. That family came from a man named Abraham (Genesis 12:1).
Similar to Joseph, the Lord had to relocate Abraham. He was near Persia, between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers. Eventually, Abraham settled into what would become Israel. Then he had a son who had a son who had Joseph. Nothing was going to stop God from fulfilling His promise to redeem a people.
With a famine coming and a promise in play, the Lord relocated Joseph to Egypt. He needed someone headquartered in a place that could preserve the seed of the coming Savior. Egypt was the place, and Joseph was the man.
There is a way that seems right to a man,
but its end is the way to death.
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God is calling you to trust Him. There is a plan, and you are part of that plan. It is so easy to want to be the author of the narrative rather than trust the Author of the story. Your call is not to passivity or fatalism, but a call to trust, which is the point of this chapter: Will you believe the Author of the story that has your life written into it?
If you choose to work your plan rather than His plan, you will never be truly satisfied and always in conflict with God (James 4:6). Trying to be the god of your life is far more complicated than trusting God with your life.
For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake. – Philippians 1:29
Though those two sentences read virtually the same, they are as far apart as heaven and hell. Be not deceived; there is a high cost for discipleship.
If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself? – Luke 9:23-25
If you want to follow God, you must daily set aside your craving for life according to your preferences. The life we live on earth is not a safe life, but it can be a good life. I wonder what it would be like to interview some of the men and women who followed the Lord. I wonder how they would answer this question, “Did you think the Lord was safe when you walked with Him?”
God has a plan for your life. He will not give you all the details of that plan. God did not tell Joseph how his story was going to end. He could not. He would not. If the Lord had told Joseph all that was going to happen to him, Joseph’s faith would have been in the knowledge that he would be released from prison and become Vice President of Egypt. The Lord wants you to trust Him, not a happy ending.
God will not tell you why He is allowing your life to roll out the way it is. He’s asking you to love and follow Him by faith. I do not know why your life is the way it is, but I do know that God loves you and He will go to great lengths to fulfill His promise to secure your redemption.