…but God meant it for good." (Genesis 50:20)
I used to think that verse was so comforting because it meant that when life gave me lemons, God would make lemonade out of it. We hear things like that all the time. Bad, evil, horrible things happen in our lives that are just the effects of living in a sinful world full of sinful people and being sinners who do sinful things. That’s just the way it happens. The bumper sticker is right. "Stuff" happens.
Then I got thinking some more. Does that mean that when something bad happens, when I’m suffering, that something slipped by God when He wasn’t looking? Oh, not to worry, He’ll help me get through it, make it better, turn it all out for good in the end. But that still doesn’t answer the question of how it happened in the first place.
Joseph’s replies to his brothers in the way that faith speaks. They most definitely meant it for evil when they beat him, threw him into a pit, sold him into slavery, and faked his death to their father, Jacob. But all the while that was happening, all those evil things they (and others) did to him…God meant it all for good.
That’s something entirely different. God meant it. It didn’t slip by, God didn’t just make a whole lotta really nice lemonade for Joseph out of the lemons life threw his way. God meant it all to happen to Joseph. It was on purpose. He didn’t "allow" it to happen (St. Augustine’s "cliche"). It was for good, that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.
Joseph really couldn’t have meant THAT, could he? How could anyone seriously believe such an crazy idea?? He HAS to be faking it. How in the world could such evil be the work of God, and what kind of idiot would ever call it "good" without first seeing how God makes it good? He needs to protect God from being God. Someone needs to teach Joseph the highest art of being a real theologian. And fast, before someone actually hears what he says and believes that God could be so good to Joseph’s family as to look out for them…without them looking out for God.
Or maybe he gets it better than most of us "real" theologians…
Joseph’s got God’s Word to him. God is going to be good to His family – to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. He has these wild dreams in which God tells him of his future relationship with his family. And boy, does he talk and meditate on it day and night! Day AND night to the point that his brothers are so sick and tired of hearing about what God is telling little Joseph in his dreams that they beat him up, throw him into a pit, sell him into slavery and fake his death. And there’s his suffering at the hands of his brothers, the slave traders, Potifar, jailtime, all suffering for the faith, the words that God Himself has put into him.
In fact, this God-given gift Joseph has for interpreting dreams is what not only got his brothers riled up so that they did evil things to him, but it gets him the #2 spot ruling Egypt as Pharoah’s right-hand man. Is that God making the best of a bad situation and turning something evil into a good outcome? It doesn’t look that way to me.
I mean, really, what kind of God does that sort of thinking show us anyway? That while He was busy adorning field lilies and fluffing sparrow feathers, Satan manages to sneak doozies into our lives? Am I to believe that He was just looking the other way when I was wooed by an attractive, smooth-talking Navy S.E.A.L. into spending a few days with him and his friends, when really a round-trip ticket and a bit of vodka for a "nice" girl was a heckuva better deal than the going rates from the "experienced" ladies in TiaJuana. Is God really that powerless and inattentive? Or maybe He was teaching me a lesson, punishing me for my own stupidity and rebelliousness for going on the trip against the advice of friends and family. Is He that cold and cruel?
But faith reminds us that our Father has only good for us – and Joseph – all the time. Not only does He save us from the truly evil and horrible suffering that we deserve for our sins, He usually does so in ways we don’t see Him working at all, or at least not until after the fact when we, like Moses in the cleft of the rocks, can see where He has been. But the cool thing about God is that He’s so good at being God and good at doing good, He doesn’t have to check with us about how He’s going to work good for us. He does something and it’s good.
He saves us in such hidden ways that we usually miss His working and abandon the promises He has made to us in Christ. We get caught up in our faithless suffering, tempted into believing that somehow we don’t deserve to suffer at all, that it can’t possibly get any worse, that God has forgotten about us, and that we really are alone in the big, bad world. We forget that even in our suffering, God counts and cares for every hair on our heads, that our dear Father only has good gifts for His children, that He has not even spared His beloved only-begotten Son to save us from the torment and suffering we truly deserve, and has nothing left with which to punish us since He poured out all His wrath for our sons upon Christ instead of us.
That’s what bearing our crosses is really about. It’s not that "date rape" is itself a cross to bear, some sort of suffering we must endure with a stiff upper lip simply because we’re Christians. It doesn’t take a Christian to do that. Even a Pagan can find a rainbow at the end of a tragic situation. The Cross of being a Christian is to confess the Faith of Jesus through suffering, keeping the Cross of Christ before us when everything in and around us tempts us do otherwise. Now that’s bearing a cross!
And yes, that may mean that some days I don’t actually believe God’s promises to me in Christ are true, some days that it’s just THAT bad and my world turned so upside-down and inside-out that I can barely remember which way is up, much less that I’m baptized. My confession won’t be all that heartfelt and I will just be repeating words that, honestly, seem cliche to even me. My witness certainly won’t be convincing to others, I’m not even buying it. But that doesn’t make it any less true. Yet repeating it and confessing anyway it is bearing my cross in the way Christ did, in the way of the Gospel.
When I was raped by my boyfriend, Pete meant it for evil. God meant it for good, so that many people today may be kept safe from others like him…
Yes, I am a poseur in the faith, pray for me.
St. Mark 9:24