“God has a plan for you.” “God works all things for good.”
These are words that we often hear in our times of waiting, but while I believe they are true, (and I even said them in my last post) I think they can be thrown around carelessly at times. People say these words with good intention, but they are not always helpful to hear.
The problem is that there are times when we just can’t see it, when we look at our life and our situation and wonder how this could possibly be part of God’s plan if God really is a good and loving God.
In our suffering or in our waiting these questions confront us. Does God really have a plan? What does that mean? Is it always a good plan?
Let’s take a look at the story of Joseph and some of the events of his life:
(If you’re not familiar with the story this video gives a fun summary in less than 4 minutes, or you can read the full version in Genesis 37-50.)
- He is favoured by his father and given a special gift which makes his brothers jealous.
- He has dreams of greatness, of his brothers bowing down before him.
- His brothers plot to kill him but change their minds at the last minute and instead he is sold as a slave and taken to Egypt.
- He is faithful and successful in his job and placed in charge of the whole household.
- He is falsely accused and put into prison. Once again he is faithful but he remains in prison for several years.
- He is called to Pharaoh to interpret his dreams and God enables him to do that. He predicts seven years of good crops in Egypt, followed by seven years of famine.
- He is made governor of Egypt and, through his wisdom and organisation, many lives are saved during the famine.
- He is reconciled with his brothers, he forgives them and the whole family relocates to Egypt.
As we look at Joseph’s story, it seems clear that God was at work, that he had a plan. He gave Joseph dreams which came true several years later in ways none of the family would ever have imagined. Through a series of events, both good and bad, Joseph ended up in the right place at the right time and was able to save the lives of many people.
We have the advantage of looking back and seeing the big picture of Joseph’s story, but it’s interesting to consider how it would have looked from the middle of the story. When Joseph was at the bottom of the well, or on his way to Egypt or sitting in prison for years, do you think he had a sense that God had a great plan for him? We know that he trusted God and that he was faithful, but I doubt he had any idea how things would turn out.
This gives me hope. As I sit in the middle of my story- not in a bad or desperate situation like Joseph, but in a place of waiting and uncertainty- it encourages me that God knows what he’s doing. Or as Margaret Feinberg puts it: “No matter what always remain suspicious that God is up to something good.”
But I do want to make something clear: this is a series about waiting so that is my focus, but I am not suggesting that we should always automatically accept our lot in life as being part of God’s plan. There is a time to take action: Moses going to Pharaoh to free the Israelites, Esther approaching the King to plead for the Jewish people… I’d suggest that if we are falsely imprisoned or in an abusive situation, for example, we should be taking action to change things if there’s something we can do.
I am also not suggesting that God causes our pain to accomplish a higher purpose. God is a God of love and justice. I don’t believe it was his will for Joseph to treated that way by his brothers or to be falsely accused and imprisoned, just as I don’t believe it is God’s will today for people to be abused or children to die. People’s sinful choices and the wider effects of living in a broken world cause these things, but they are not what God wants for the world. Otherwise why would Jesus teach us to pray, “May your will be done on earth as it is in heaven”? (Matthew 6:10 NLT)
Having said that, God is a master at bringing beauty from the ruins, and that’s what I think we see in Joseph’s story. He somehow takes even the sinful actions of Joseph’s brothers and Potiphar’s wife and works them into his plan for good.
Once they are reunited, Joseph reassures his brothers: “You intended to harm me, but God intended it all for good. He brought me to this position so I could save the lives of many people.” (Genesis 50:20)
The tension between God’s sovereignty and human free will is a difficult one, which I doubt we will ever fully understand, but Joseph’s story reassures me that God is ultimately in charge and that even when our situations are difficult and messy he can redeem them so we should “always remain suspicious that God is up to something good.”
This is a complex topic which is impossible to cover adequately in a short blog post. I realise it is also a topic where people have different views. Consider this a starting point for thinking and discussion. Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments, but let’s show respect to one another.
Join me throughout November and December as we explore the topic of waiting. Click here for an index page of all the posts in the series.