“And Joseph said unto them, Fear not: for am I in the place of God? But as for you, ye thought evil against me; but God meant it unto good, to bring to pass, as it is this day, to save much people alive” (Genesis 50:19-20, KJV).
Christians who live by the horizontal perspective will invariably miss the workings of God in their day to day experiences. For most of us, this is where we live. In a culture where, despite words to the contrary, we take credit for our accomplishments and blame others for our disappointments/failures, we seem naturally predisposed to this perspective. From here we see people and things, and because they’re so much a part of the social environment with which we interact, we link them to our experiences. They either caused something good or bad to happen to us, or prevented something good or bad from happening to/for us.
Most readers will recognize our reference text as coming from the culmination of the story of Joseph. This story with its many twists and turns can be found in chapters 37-50 of Genesis, and for those not familiar with it, I would recommend its reading for a “front seat” view of one of the most amazing Biblical narratives. However, as we travel with Joseph, we see a son who was favored by his father and the object of much jealousy by his eleven brothers. Thrown into a pit, sold into slavery, accused of sexual harassment and attempted rape, thrown into prison, interpreted a couple of dreams successfully, interpreted Pharaoh’s dreams successfully, released from prison, made governor of Egypt, and finally had oversight of affairs during the predicted seven-year drought. His life came full circle, so to speak, when during the famine his brothers came to Egypt, not knowing who he was as they believed him to be dead, in search of wheat. As predicted in his youthful dreams, which partially provoked the jealousy, they “bowed down themselves before him with their faces to the earth” (42:6)
For our purposes, it is not necessary to detail Joseph’s joyful reunion with his family, but seventeen years later, “when Joseph’s brethren saw that their father was dead, they said, Joseph will peradventure hate us, and will certainly requite us all the evil which we did unto him” (50:15). It was to this and their other concerns and pleas for forgiveness for the way they had treated him, up to the time they sold him into slavery, that Joseph spoke the words in our reference text. But his response was not the typical response! Yes, they had done all the terrible things, and after the family reunion, how their consciences must have kept them awake at nights. Joseph would have been well within his right to rehash the past and apportion blame as he saw fit. While in slavery, he could have planned and plotted his revenge. When he first saw them prostrate before him begging for wheat, he could have had them killed, but after a series of meetings, the narrative tells us “Then Joseph could not refrain himself before all them that stood by him; and he cried … And he wept aloud: and the Egyptians and the house of Pharaoh heard … And Joseph said unto his brethren, Come near to me, I pray you. And they came near. And he said, I am Joseph your brother, whom ye sold into Egypt. Now therefore be not grieved, nor angry with yourselves, that ye sold me hither: for God did send me before you to preserve life” (45:1a-2, 4-5).
The vertical perspective – “God did send me before you to preserve life.” Joseph knew enough to recognize that all along the way, the events in his life were orchestrated by God, for His purpose. Along the pathways through every hurt, every disappointment, and every betrayal, the eyes of God never left him. So as his brothers stood before him in fear of revenge, Joseph assured them, “ye thought evil against me; but God meant it unto good, to bring to pass, as it is this day, to save much people alive.” Couldn’t God have done it differently? Sure He could have, but as He told us through Isaiah, “my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways … For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts” (55:8,9).
Because God doesn’t always do things the way we think He should, it is difficult to appreciate that maybe some of the disappointments and hurts we experience are part of His plan for our lives. But ask Joseph, Job, and some of the “heroes of faith” whose lives and characters were fashioned through difficult circumstances. Instead of harboring negative feelings and emotions and asking “Why?”, “Why Me?”, how about resting in God’s Sovereignty? There we can rest assured that “all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28).
As you struggle with your respective situations, what perspective are you taking?