Summary: Joseph is unjustly put in prison; yet God is present with him there.
Genesis 39:1-23 "When Bad Things Happen to Good People"
We go through life telling ourselves little lies. These lies include: "If I work hard, I can get whatever I want," "If I earn just 20% more, I'll be happy," "Affluence, security and comfort are what life really is all about." These lies serve many purposes. They give us hope in the midst of difficult circumstances. Society uses them to encourage us to fit in and be normal even if to do so goes against whom we really are. But in the end, the only things these lies are--lies.
Lies also extend into our lives of faith. We frequently tell ourselves that we will be closer to God when we are successful and when everything is going our way. At first glance, this seems to conform to the ideas of Scripture. After all, Abraham, David, Solomon and others like them were men of God, close to God and physically blessed. More often than not, though, we see that God appears to people in the midst of their suffering. They experience God's grace while being persecuted for their faith. We experience God's grace on a cross, in a death, and because of an empty tomb.
The story of Joseph is a story that demonstrates how God is present even when bad things happen.
FROM BAD TO WORSE
We have all had "those" days--days that start off with not hearing the alarm clock, or having a bad hair day and going down from there. Joseph had such an experience. He started off as the favored son of his father. He was given the finest of coats and told he didn't have to work like his other brothers did. His brothers, though, plotted against him, sold him into slavery. Joseph was taken to Egypt where he was sold to a military officer. Eventually he was framed by his master's wife and thrown into prison. It was not a good time for Joseph.
We, as readers, are not told what Joseph was thinking. He might have been depressed and disillusioned wondering why all of the bad stuff had happened to him. Perhaps he was introspective and began to see, for the first time, his pride and arrogance, his self-centeredness and selfishness. Joseph might have been angry at God, or Joseph might have been a shining example of faith--trusting that God was with him and had him in the palm of God's hands. We simply don't know.
What we do know is that the writer understood that God was intimately involved in this story. God had not abandoned Joseph. Somehow God was moving forward with God's plan. It is in the person of Joseph and Joseph's descendants that God began to fulfill his promises that God made to Abraham.
It seems to be counterintuitive to believe that God is in control and is moving on our behalf when our world falls apart. Still, as Christians and disciples of Jesus Christ that is exactly what we can believe. Instead of getting angry with God, we can utter small words of thanks and with the eyes of faith begin to look for signs of God in our circumstances, knowing that it is in our struggles that God draws us close to him and reveals himself to us.
A BLESSING TO OTHERS
In verse two the writer records that The Lord was with Joseph and he became a successful man. Even though slavery in Old Testament times was different than in eighteenth and nineteenth century United States, I'm not sure a person can be a successful slave. I'm not sure it would be the type of success that I would want. Success, though, was a way for the writer to demonstrate that God truly was with Joseph.
Potiphar, the military officer who had bought Joseph, realized that God was with Joseph. Potiphar and his household were blessed because of Joseph's presence.
Disciples of Jesus Christ can be blessings to others even in the midst of their struggles and difficult times (as well as in their successes). Such blessings are not realized if we join into the general complaining and "woe is me," of others. Venting is sometimes helpful as we deal with the challenges of life, but it is rarely a blessing to others.
We are blessings as we live through our struggles with the knowledge that God is with us and that nothing can separate us from God. The peace and hope that such knowledge inspires within us can be inspiring and a blessing to others.
An insightful Christian writer, Henri Nouwen, wrote that Christians can be wounded healers. What he means is that Christians can walk with people during their struggles and trials supporting them and sharing the comfort and hope they received through their faith in God. Many of us have experienced this. We have battled cancer and when someone we know enters that same war we can stand beside them in their fight. Those of us, who have struggled to raise challenging children, can provide the non-judgmental presence, perspective and hope needed by parents who are trying to find the answers. As we strive to find employment, we can join with others in C3G to provide the support and accountability that is needed in that oftentimes fruitless struggle. We can be wounded healers--showing our scars and declaring that there is healing and health.