We want answers. All of us. The most common word in my house is the word why. In childhood, kids are curious and they want to know how the world works. The why word is their way of learning. In adulthood, we get a better idea of how the world works. But we still want to know why. We want to know how God works.
God never promised to give us all of the answers or details involved in the events of our lives. He did, however, promise other things. Better things. Perhaps Joseph, more than any other person in the Bible, shows us how sinners can navigate their way through the whys of suffering without losing their faith.
Here are seven things you can know when you just don’t know.
1. Bad things will happen to you.
You could get audited. You could get sick. You probably will die. Or, like Joseph, you could get sold into slavery by your jealous brothers.
Then Judah said to his brothers, “What profit is it if we kill our brother and conceal his blood? Come, let us sell him to the Ishmaelites, and let not our hand be upon him, for he is our brother, our own flesh.” And his brothers listened to him. Genesis 37:26-27 (ESV)
A lot of the TV preachers may look like they mean well. Maybe some of them do mean well. But they’re still lying to you when they say that loving Jesus protects you from suffering and tribulations. Joseph suffered. Jesus suffered more than anyone could ever know. And you will suffer too.
But the story doesn’t end there.
2. Your suffering does not leave you beyond the reach of God’s grace.
After being sold by his brothers and ending up in Egypt, Joseph still wasn’t too far gone. And, no matter your trials, neither are you. Your feelings and fears will tell you that God has abandoned you. The Bible paints a different picture. It tells us of a God who blesses his people, even when we’re not exactly where they’d like to be.
The LORD was with Joseph, and he became a successful man, and he was in the house of his Egyptian master. Genesis 39:2 (ESV)
So he left all that he had in Joseph’s charge, and because of him he had no concern about anything but the food he ate. Now Joseph was handsome in form and appearance. Genesis 39:6 (ESV)
3. Your trial is no excuse for sin.
It’s easy to think that your suffering has earned you a sin hall pass of sorts. It hasn’t. The genuineness of our faith is most often seen when that faith is shaken. Anyone can abandon their beliefs in a storm. Only true believers will cling to the truth even when there’s nothing much else to cling to.
Bitterness may come easy. Anger may seem natural. But they are still sins. Your call to holiness doesn’t go on hiatus when you suffer.
And after a time his master’s wife cast her eyes on Joseph and said, “Lie with me.” But he refused and said to his master’s wife, “Behold, because of me my master has no concern about anything in the house, and he has put everything that he has in my charge. He is not greater in this house than I am, nor has he kept back anything from me except you, because you are his wife. How then can I do this great wickedness and sin against God?” And as she spoke to Joseph day after day, he would not listen to her, to lie beside her or to be with her. Genesis 39:7-10 (ESV)
4. God loves you and he is with you.
Most people think that their trials are happening because they have done something to make God mad. Christian, you are not under God’s wrath. Discipline? Perhaps. Love? Definitely. But not his wrath. No matter how bad things are for you, God loves you and he is with you.
But the LORD was with Joseph and showed him steadfast love and gave him favor in the sight of the keeper of the prison. Genesis 39:21 (ESV)
5. God is not done with you.
When I first started speaking to youth, I got some great advice from a Doug Fields VHS tape. He said that when you tell stories to students, keep the ones about scoring the game winning touchdown or getting voted most likely to succeed to yourself. Instead, tell about the time when you fell up the stairs at the movie theater. Most people can’t relate to your success stories. Everyone can relate to your pain.
While he was in prison, Joseph was able to glorify God in a way that no free man could.
When Joseph came to them in the morning, he saw that they were troubled. So he asked Pharaoh’s officers who were with him in custody in his master’s house, “Why are your faces downcast today?” They said to him, “We have had dreams, and there is no one to interpret them.” And Joseph said to them, “Do not interpretations belong to God? Please tell them to me.” Genesis 40:6-8 (ESV)
The pain you are experiencing now will give you spiritual street cred later on to help someone experiencing the same trials.
6. God will redeem your trial.
Joseph eventually made it out of jail and, by God’s grace, became the second highest official in the very land where he once lived as a slave and a prisoner. And God used Joseph to help countless numbers of people during a terrible famine in his land. A few of those people were Joseph’s brothers, the very ones who sold him into slavery. Joseph’s response to his brothers is a testimony of trust in God’s sovereign and loving control.
His brothers also came and fell down before him and said, “Behold, we are your servants.” But 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. So do not fear; I will provide for you and your little ones.” Thus he comforted them and spoke kindly to them. Genesis 50:18-21 (ESV)
Bitterness will keep you from seeing this. Only the heart that keeps its trust fixed on God through trials will clearly see God work those trials into good.
7. God keeps his promises.
Years before Joseph, God made a promise to Abraham to make his descendants many. For a time, it looked as though those descendants were in trouble and that God’s promise would not come true. It was more than Joseph’s wisdom or some sort of coincidence that saved God’s people. It was simply God keeping is promise.
And Joseph said to his brothers, “I am about to die, but God will visit you and bring you up out of this land to the land that he swore to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.” Genesis 50:24 (ESV)
We typically don’t talk much about what God can’t do. There’s not much to talk about there. But one thing that he can’t do is break his promise. That was true in the Old Testament. And it’s true now.
The same God who kept his promise to Abraham is the same God who promised that he would be with you always and see you through until the end.
There is a lot that we don’t know. At no time is that more evident than when we suffer.
Just remember, our objective in life is not to know it all but to trust the One who does.