Genesis 45Joseph could no longer control himself before all those who stood by him, and he cried out, “Send everyone away from me.” So no one stayed with him when Joseph made himself known to his brothers. And he wept so loudly that the Egyptians heard it, and the household of Pharaoh heard it. Joseph said to his brothers, “I am Joseph. Is my father still alive?” But his brothers could not answer him, so dismayed were they at his presence. Then Joseph said to his brothers, “Come closer to me.” And they came closer. He said, “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; he has made me a father to Pharaoh, and lord of all his house and ruler over all the land of Egypt. Hurry and go up to my father and say to him, ‘Thus says your son Joseph, God has made me lord of all Egypt; come down to me, do not delay…Then he fell upon his brother Benjamin’s neck and wept, while Benjamin wept upon his neck. And he kissed all his brothers and wept upon them; and after that his brothers talked with him.Romans 8:28We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.
It’s all good
I was enjoying lunch a week or two ago with a good and wise friend. As we were winding up, he said: Let me ask you a question. I had a sense I should fasten my seatbelt. He asks good questions. This was what he wanted to discuss: Does God have a plan for our lives? He spoke of friends who are crystal clear that God has mapped it all out. It’s all scripted. We just need to play our part, act out the role. As an Episcopalian, more qualified, uncertain answers went through my mind as he asked about God as strategic planner. I thought of responses like: It depends. It’s complicated. It’s a mystery. I’m not sure.
I’m pretty clear in my own belief that there is not just one course our lives can take and if we screw that up, God gives up on us. I’m not certain God has it all planned out, as if we’re chess pieces or automatons or actors in a drama with a foregone conclusion. It’s a mystery for sure, God’s knowledge (omniscience) and power (omnipotence) intersecting with our agency. I’m oddly comforted to know that theologians have debated this for centuries.
But I do hold this creed. I do believe that in all things, God has intention for good, for each of us, for all of creation. God intends healing, wholeness, deliverance, salvation, peace. And if we are working towards any of that, we are in the zone.
Yesterday in church, the lectionary gave us the option of reading one of the final scenes of the story of Joseph, of amazing technicolor dream-coat fame. It’s one of my favorite stories. If you’re looking for a good summer read, catch the whole saga in the book of Genesis, chapters 37-50.
It’s one of those stories that makes people regard the Bible as just one big story of sibling rivalry. (Maybe that’s the story of human history.) To review, Joseph, favored son of Jacob whose sons represent the 12 tribes of Israel, didn’t seem to mind playing favored son status with his siblings. It didn’t go over well. So they planned to kill him. They threw him in a hole in the ground to figure out what to do with him. They decided to sell him as a slave. He ended up in Egypt. He was a smart, capable boy and he rose in position in Egypt until he was falsely accused of a crime. Thrown into prison, he languished there until his gift for interpreting dreams put him in a place of power. As model administrator, paragon of wisdom, he governed Egypt, making preparations for a global famine. Before long, his brothers made their way to Egypt to get food. They appeal to Joseph for help, though it’s been a while and they don’t recognize him.
The passage read in church yesterday (included above) describes the moment when Joseph’s identity is revealed to his brothers. They worry he will exact revenge. But Joseph speaks of God’s good intention. His brothers meant to do him evil. Joseph says God meant it for good. All of it resulted in the rescue, the deliverance, the salvation not only of Joseph but of his brothers, and thus, the people of Israel. One could argue that if this story hadn’t happened, the story of the Bible might not have gone any further.
Was it God’s plan for all these bad things to happen to Joseph? That’s hard to understand and embrace. Just as it is hard to understand and embrace the mystery of why bad things happen to good people. But what does seem to come through is that God has ability to work in any situation and bring good out of it. Case in point: the cruelty of the cross. We call it redemption and it occurs to me that in the coincidental crises we face right now, and in the personal crises that come to each of us, we could use some redemption. We each have to find ways to look forward, to hold on to hope, to trust in one whose intention toward us is goodness. How is that as a challenge for you this Monday morning?
As I was mulling this mystery, I heard a fine sermon preached by a friend in which she quoted Phillips Brooks, great Episcopal preacher (no, that’s not an oxymoron) and Rector of Trinity Church in Boston in the 19th century. Check out this quote: You must learn, you must let God teach you, that the only way to get rid of your past is to make a future out of it. God will waste nothing.
It’s all good.