But Joseph said to them, “Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God? You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. So then, don’t be afraid. I will provide for you and your children.” And he reassured them and spoke kindly to them (Genesis 50:19-21, NIV).
In 20/20 hindsight, Joseph could look back over his life and see how God had been working through his brother’s betrayal to bring about good that could not have happened otherwise. It is blessing to have after you go through the kind of things that Joseph did.
Oftentimes, if we are honest with ourselves, we would much rather have foresight than hindsight. Sometimes God does give us some foresight of what He is going to do in and through us. Joseph had his two dreams. His father Jacob had the dream about the ladder from heaven where God promised to be with him and bring him safely back home, David was anointed as Saul’s successor when he was a boy long before he became king. But these foresights left out a lot; specifically they left out virtually all of the pain and trials and heartaches they would have to endure along the way.
I have gotten to the point where I see the wisdom in this. Think about it, how would a seventeen year-old Joseph have responded to God if He said:
“Hey Joseph, I need to get you to Egypt so that you can be Pharaoh’s right-hand man so that you can save your family and whole nations from starvation.”
“But for Me to grow you into the man who can do that and for me to get you into that position, your brothers are going to hate you, beat you, and sell you to slave traders. These slave traders are going to sell you to Potiphar, the Pharaoh’s Captain of the Guard. You need to work hard and serve him as a slave while you are there. Then his wife is going to try and get you to commit adultery with her. You need to refuse her advances. When you do, she will accuse you of rape which will land you in prison.”
“While you are there—which will be several years—you need to be obedient and work hard for the jailer. Then two men from Pharaoh’s court, his baker and his cup bearer, are going to end up in prison. I am going to give them dreams, and give you the interpretation of those dreams. The baker will die and the cup bearer will be restored. I need you to ask the cup bearer who is restored to bring your case to Pharaoh’s attention.”
“Now, don’t get too excited he is going to forget about you for a couple of years. But after that time I will give Pharaoh a pair of dreams that no one in his court can interpret. Then the cup bearer who was restored will remember you and tell Pharaoh about you. Then I will have Pharaoh send for you and I will give you the interpretation of his dreams, after which he will put you in the position to save your family and even all of Egypt.”
Do you think Joseph would have said, “That sounds great, when do we start?”
When God told Moses at the burning bush all that was going to happen before God brought Israel out of Egypt, how did he respond? “Please send someone else.” And he was a grown man eighty years old!
I think it is much more likely Joseph would have said, “Um, no thank you.”
No one likes suffering. We try to avoid it as much we can and minimize it when we can’t. But Paul reminds us in Romans 5:3-4 (NLTse), We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation. Just as God grew in Joseph the faith, humility, and wisdom he needed to prepare for the famine through his suffering, He works the same way in you and me.
What I have been learning is, like Joseph, we need to remember that the blessing of seeing how God was working in the midst of pain, suffering, and even evil for His glory and our ultimate good isn’t possible for Him to give until it is hindsight. For Joseph that was after many years that were full of extremely hard times.
Perhaps you feel like you have been enduring one storm after another. Perhaps you feel like for all your good intentions and striving to live for God as best you can, you seem to only be going backwards. Perhaps you are wondering why God has not answered your prayers to save you from these times or at least to explain the purpose of these times. If you are, you are in good company. I am sure Joseph felt that way. I know David felt that way. In Psalms 13:1-4 (NIV) David cries,
How long, LORD? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I wrestle with my thoughts
and day after day have sorrow in my heart?
How long will my enemy triumph over me?
Look on me and answer, LORD my God.
Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death,
and my enemy will say, “I have overcome him,”
and my foes will rejoice when I fall.
Living by faith means trusting that God is working for His glory and our good even when our current circumstances—even when our circumstances have been painful for a long time—temp us to think otherwise. God breaks us down not to make us sour and bitter but so He can build us up and make us better and sweeter, so we can be ready to do the work that He has prepared in advance for us to do (Ephesians 2:10). And the greater the work, the greater our suffering is likely to be.
When we get to the place where we are doing the works that required the suffering we went through, God often gives us the blessing of hindsight. If you don’t have it yet, take heart and be patient. Trust that He is faithful. The day will come when you are given that blessing. It may not be today or tomorrow or even next year. But just because you don’t see it today, it doesn’t mean that you never will.