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.]

Next Steps after “A Wake Up Call to Live the Dream”

MLK-Gathering-Ads_App-Wide.pngLast night, we had the immense privilege of hosting an event at Eastbrook Church put on by the Milwaukee Declaration group entitled “A Wake Up Call to Live the Dream.” It was an amazing multi-ethnic gathering of believers from congregations around the city and suburbs of Milwaukee. At the end of the night, we provided some possible next steps. Since some folks have asked me about that resource list, I am posting it to my blog below.Read More »

The Apostles Creed: An Apology for Regular Use

This past weekend at Eastbrook Church, I made a shift in our worship service order where we will recite the Apostles Creed on the first weekend of each month before participating in communion. As a non-denominational church, we are not alone in rarely reciting creeds. However, here is my apology for regular recitation of the creed together in corporate worship. I offered a slightly different version of this in the conclusion of my message this past weekend, “The Joy of Faith.”

image 1 - mission dei mosaicOne of the most important ways we announce that we are living by a different story is to rehearse – to say again and again – to declare – that our story is something other than the story of this earth.

There is a word for that in Christian practice and history: an affirmation of faith or declaration in a creed. So, I am going to have us do something different as a church here at Eastbrook. I want to have us regularly declare that we are living by a different story. When we gather on the first weekend of every month and celebrate the communion meal, I want us to take a stand together around the truth of the gospel revealed in Jesus Christ. I want us to announce to a listening world that Jesus is Lord and we are living for God’s good life and no other counter claims.

The Apostles Creed is the most widely used and consistently affirmed summary statements of faith within the global church of Jesus Christ.[1] Although its exact origins cannot be traced, the Apostles Creed in its present form is first found in a document from c. 750. The basic concepts and structure of the Apostles Creed is found as early as c. 340 in what is known as the Old Roman Creed.[2] “Teachers as varied as Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, and Luther have held the Apostles’ Creed remains the best condensed statement of Christian faith and the most reliable way to learn the heart of faith.”[3]

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What is the difference between joy and happiness?

As we launch into our series “Unshackled: Joy Beyond Circumstances” from the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Philippians, I want to encourage us to consider more deeply whether there is a difference between joy and happiness. There are a millions articles about the superficiality of happiness, but Scripture actually does reference happiness as an experience of life with God. That being said, our culture often simplifies happiness into a fleeting, emotional state that we are perpetually seeking without really finding it. Joy, on the other hand, involves a decision of the will to approach life in a certain way, with a certain mental state, regardless of circumstances. Scripturally, we see that joy is a fruit of the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer in Christ (Galatians 5:22-23) and is from first to last a gift from God (Psalm 19:18; 21:6; 94:19; John 15:11Romans 14:17; 15:13; 1 John 1:4).

Here is a video excerpt from the Yale Center for Faith & Culture‘s consultation on the Theology of Joy wrestling with this very question: “What is the difference between joy and happiness?”