Summary: God “redeems” suffering through faith in his goodness and control.
A guy from New York rented a car after landing at the Dallas airport and set out across Texas to a meeting. Suddenly a truck pulling a horse trailer swerved and collided with him. He waited over a month before trying to collect damages from his insurance company. When he did call, the lawyer said: “You cannot claim injuries now; and according to the police report, at the time of the accident, you said you were not hurt.”
The New Yorker responded: “Now you listen to me. I was lying on the road in agonywhen I heard someone say the horse had a broken leg. The next thing I know a Texas Ranger pulls out his gun and shoots the horse. What was I supposed to say when he asked me: ‘Are you okay?’”
Maybe you feel your problems are a pretext for getting shot. But though they seem to have little other value, the Bible promises more: faith “redeems” suffering as it recognizes the good purposes of God and produces in us joy in the midst of the pain. Philippians 1.12-14 reminds us that God works even suffering for good.
[Read Philippians 1.12-14. Pray.]
Jacob (whose name God changed to Israel) had twelve sons: Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Zebulun, Issachar, Dan, Gad, Asher, Naphtali, Benjamin, and Joseph. We call these the twelve tribes of Israel; their descendants are the Jewish people. Now Israel especially favored Joseph, and (as we might expect) the brothers resented the preferential treatment. So they kidnapped him, sold him into slavery, and convinced their dad that he had been killed by a fierce animal.
Joseph ends up a slave in the royal household of Egypt, where, over time, he rises in power and influence to run the government’s Department of Agriculture and Economics. When a severe famine develops, Joseph’s brothers must travel to Egypt to buy food. There they meet Joseph, but do not recognize him. They simply bow before this governor from whom they must beg for food if they are to survive. And when Joseph finally reveals himself, the brothers fear he will kill them in revenge. Joseph, however, responds from faith.
Genesis 45.4-8: “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 yet five years in which there will be neither plowing nor harvest. And 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.”
Instead of blaming his brothers for cruelty, he sees God’s hand in his every circumstance. By faith, Joseph accepts his hurt and pain, not as the triumph of evil, but as the mysterious and glorious plan of the sovereign God who does all things according to the counsel of his will, for the good of his people.
The brothers go back to Canaan, get their father, Israel, and return to Egypt, where the whole clan lives for the next 17 years. But when Israel dies, the brothers fear that Joseph withheld revenge out of respect for their father, but now will destroy them.
Genesis 50.15-18: When Joseph’s brothers saw that their father was dead, they said, “It may be that Joseph will hate us and pay us back for all the evil that we did to him.” So they sent a message to Joseph, saying, “Your father gave this command before he died, ‘Say to Joseph, Please forgive the transgression of your brothers and their sin, because they did evil to you.’ And now, please forgive the transgression of the servants of the God of your father”…. His brothers also came and fell down before him and said, “Behold, we are your servants.” Joseph’s response is one of the more famous verses in the whole of the Bible.
Genesis 50.19-20: Joseph said to them, “Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.”
By faith, Joseph accepts his hurt and pain, not as the triumph of evil, but as the mysterious and glorious plan of the sovereign God who does all things according to the counsel of his will, for the good of his people. Joseph’s faith “redeems” his suffering.
We are fallen creatures living in a fallen world; we will experience sin and suffering, injustice and hurt, death and disease. We can try to avoid it, but none can fully succeed. How will we respond when our dreams of comfort and ease are shattered?