Four Aspects of Suffering in Joseph

josephs-coat-diego_velc3a1zquez-1630.jpgLet’s reflect on four aspects of suffering that we see in the life of Joseph:

  1. Joseph’s family dynamic brought suffering down upon him. Joseph did not choose to be born into the dysfunctional and broken family system of Abraham’s generations, but that was the context of his birth and growth. The tensions between Joseph and his brothers reflected the tensions between their mothers, Leah and Rachel, as well as with their father, Jacob. These tensions went back a generation before into Jacob and Esau’s broken interactions, as well as that of their parents Isaac and Rebekah. There was a social and relational brokenness that brought suffering down upon Joseph. We see and experience this in our own lives, when the cycles of family sin and brokenness bring suffering down upon us, even if we were not the cause of them. Suffering as a result of social, relational dynamics is real.
  2. Joseph’s personal attitudes and decisions brought suffering down upon him. Clearly, Joseph made decisions himself that brought suffering down upon him. The way in which he swaggered around, wearing that the regal robe given by his father, did not endear him to his brothers. The dreams, although given by God, were freely shared in a way that did not add anything good to his prospects. When Joseph’s brothers reacted with anger in a plot to kill him, some of this came from beyond him while some parts of it were a result of Joseph’s personal decisions. We also see this in life. There are any number of people who wonder why ‘bad things happen to good people’, while all the while ignoring the ways in which their decisions and attitudes have led to some of their suffering.  Suffering as a result of personal attitudes and decision is real.
  3. Joseph’s cultural context and systemic brokenness brought suffering down upon him. While it was the familial relationships and Joseph’s personal decisions that brought about the situation where he was thrown into a cistern by his brothers, it was the cultural context and systemic brokenness that brought rise to the slave trade route on which that cistern was located. As the Midianite traders passed by within the real systemic evil of slavery, Joseph suddenly found himself caught inside of suffering that was much bigger than his own sin and his family’s sin. The way in which sin, evil and brokenness worked their way into fallen systems that marked the culture of his day and time brought suffering down upon Joseph. Again, we encounter this in our own day were certain aspects of suffering come down upon us because we simply find ourselves caught in the midst of a web of cultural and systemic evil that we cannot avoid. Suffering as a result of our cultural context and systemic brokenness is real.
  4. Still, God was present and somehow at work in the midst of every level of Joseph’s suffering. While Joseph’s cultural context, familial dynamics, and personal decisions all brought suffering upon him, the account of his life in Genesis makes it clear that God was not imprisoned by these other aspects. Does God cause these things? No. Does God allow these things? Yes. There is no other way to be human in a broken world than to have the capacity to choose evil or good. The necessary result of this is the capacity for personal, relational, and systemic sin, brokenness, and evil to exist, even as truth, beauty, and goodness may also exist. Even when suffering comes down, God does not throw up His hands and say, “Well, I guess I cannot do anything about that now.” No, even in these different aspects of suffering, Joseph’s life tells us that God is somehow still present — “the Lord was with him” (Genesis 39:21) — and active — “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives” (50:20). God’s power and presence in the midst of our suffering is real.

We do well to learn from Joseph to pay attention to all of these aspects of suffering. Many times we ask why suffering happens, and we should ask that question. However, when we drop one of these aspects of suffering out of our equation we often come up with partial or simplistic answers.

[This post is drawn from my message “Descending,” the first part of our series The Life of Joseph: God’s Sovereignty in Our Suffering.]

Fasting for Spiritual Growth

I often refer to fasting as an important spiritual growth tool in our lives. Some time ago, I wrote a number of posts on the subject of fasting and I am gathering all of those together here as a resource for understanding fasting in general. These posts also address a number of specific aspects of fasting, biblical background on fasting, and some practical helps for how we approach fasting. I hope this is helpful as you step forward by fasting in order to say ‘no’ to yourself and ‘yes’ to God for growth into the abundant life by the power of the Holy Spirit.

The Context of the Life of Joseph

As we begin our series “The Life of Joseph: God’s Sovereignty in Our Suffering” from Genesis 37-50, I cannot emphasize how important it is for us to understand the context in which Joseph’s life takes place. Certainly, we must pay attention to both the historical context of Genesis and the relational/familial context of the generations of Abraham’s family. We also must not miss the covenantal context of God’s work to bring forth blessing to all the nations through Abraham’s seed. I appreciate the way that this video on the second half of Genesis from The Bible Project helps us grasp the context of all these aspects together.

Descending [Life of Joseph, part 1]

This past weekend at Eastbrook Church we began a new series “The Life of Joseph: God’s Sovereignty in Our Suffering” by looking at the beginnings of Joseph’s story in Genesis 37.  Joseph’s story begins with dreams, parental favoritism, and family tensions. His father’s favorite son, Joseph quickly finds the disagreements with his brothers boiling over into his faked murder and sale into slavery. What do you do when everyone seems to turn against you?

You can view the message video and sermon outline for this message below. You can follow the entire series at our web-site, through the Eastbrook app, or through our audio podcast. Also, join in with our daily devotional that accompanies this series during Lent.

Read More »

The Life of Joseph: God’s Sovereignty in Our Suffering

This weekend at Eastbrook Church we begin a new series entitled “The Life of Joseph: God’s Sovereignty in Our Suffering.” As we trace the life of Joseph in Genesis, we get a glimpse of how God is at work in our lives. We can grapple with how we respond in faith through the ups and downs of life. We all face troubles in life, but God is at work in the midst of those troubles, even if He seems hidden. In this Lenten journey, we will explore themes of faith, suffering, God’s hiddenness and God’s sovereignty from the life of Joseph in Genesis 37-50. Read more background to the life of Joseph here.

Along with the weekend messages, I want to invite you to join a 40-day devotional journey. You can find out more about how to access that devotional in print or electronically here.

February 14 – “The Cross in Shadows

February 17/18 – “Descending” (Genesis 37:1-36)

February 24/25 “Caught” (Genesis 39:1-20)

March 3/4 – “Lost and Found” (Genesis 40:1-41:57)

March 10/11 – “Open Wounds” (Genesis 42:1-44:34)

March 17/18 – “Reconciliation” (Genesis 45:1-46:34)

March 24/25 – “Blessing and Rescue” (Genesis 47:1-50:26)