What is the right response to suffering?
This question has been on my mind a lot lately and God has been so gracious each time my heart has a question like this one to guide me to the right answer and example in scripture. In my Bible study, we are still working our way through Genesis. I’ve talked about Abraham, Job, Jacob, and even David on this blog. Are you ready for the next Bible character that I’m finding myself in. If you know your bible, you may be able to guess which one comes next. It’s Joseph! And oh boy, what an amazing story is Joseph’s story. It’s a story full of unfair and unjust suffering, but one that is overflowing with God’s goodness and good purposes!
I’m not gonna lie to you, I’ve kinda created a new little saying that I keep telling myself each day. I’ve been saying “I am Joseph”. As I read the story of Joseph and look at my life, I keep finding myself saying “I am Joseph”. In my Bible study, we were discussing the life of Joseph and the sudden onset of suffering he faced. Joseph went from being the most favored/spoiled child to becoming a slave all in less than a day. I was thinking to myself, “wow, I wonder what it must have felt like to have everything and then lose everything”. Then I literally felt like I had my eyes opened up to the fact that, that is my story. I saw an almost identical pattern in a way my life has been these past few months. Only months ago I was so happy. I was finally on the verge of all my dreams coming true. I was engaged and in the process of starting a life with someone and oh it was bliss. But then it ended so fast. One thing after another came to light and before i knew it, it was all gone.
I AM JOSEPH. I can feel the same hurt and pain and disappointment that he must have felt. All his dreams, gone. All his family and friends gone. His life suddenly taking a completely different route and an unwanted move to a new location. (Okay, wow, there really are a lot of similarities here, granted I still have my family and friends, but I moved to a new area and have been struggling to get connected so I do relate in a way to the loneliness and I do in a way also feel like I lost a family because how close I became to his family).
There really is not a lot of good happening in Joseph’s story, but if you keep reading the story of Joseph there is something very encouraging. It is said at least three times in the book of Genesis that God was with Joseph. In each season of suffering Joseph faced, Joseph had every right to complain and despair. Maybe he did at times, but the Bible never mentions it. Instead Joseph rose to the top of every situation he found himself in. He was greatly blessed and God gave him success in all he did. Even as a slave Joseph rose to high favor. And let me tell you something, you cannot rise to favor if all you ever do is complain about how bad your luck has been.
I imagine Joseph must have known that God was with him. How else could he have had the faith to keep on going without despairing. His pain had to have been great. And I’m not saying he no longer felt the pain and hurt that his brothers inflicted on him. Later in Genesis Joseph says “God has made me forget all my trouble and all my father’s household.” So obviously, his pain during this time was constantly on his mind. But what Joseph shows us here is how to rightly respond when suffering happens and we have no control over it. We must get up and keep going. We have the choice to either wallow in our self pity and despair, or make the best out of whatever situation we find ourselves in. I’ve gotta believe that when we choose the latter, God truly blesses it, just like he blesses Joseph.
God blessed Joseph and gave him favor in each place he found himself in. In Potiphar’s house, he rose to leadership. In prison, he rose to leadership. Then, lastly, in Pharaoh’s kingdom, he rose to leadership. None of these places Joseph found himself in were places he wanted to be. In fact, if he had the choice to go back to his family, I’m sure he would take it without even looking back. I can tell you that there are definitely times in my life that I wish I could just go back to those happy days and forget about the pain. But I have no control over the place I’m in right now which is why Joseph’s story has been so encouraging to me. I’m learning from Joseph’s story that God’s will for me in this season is to keep on trusting Him and to find ways to keep on serving Him even while I’m hurting.
I also want to talk a bit about the end of Joseph’s story. As I’m sure you are familiar with how in the story of Joseph we get to see how all his suffering would one day make sense and play a role in God’s amazing plan. God used Joseph to be the means of saving many nations, including Israel, from a devastating famine. Joseph became a great leader in Egypt, a wise man who was full of integrity. But if he became a ruler in Egypt right away without first spending years as a slave and in prison, I don’t believe he’d be the same ruler. God was using the hard seasons of suffering in his life to teach him how to be humble and also how to lead and manage other people. When God’s time was right, Joseph was given one of the most coveted positions in all Egypt. Truly, Joseph was finally able to say that God had taken all his sorrow away.
I think that it’s so encouraging to see how God was using Joseph’s suffering to position him in the right place at the right time to bring provision to God’s people. God was preparing Joseph for something greater. And that is what God is doing when we suffer! God is preparing us for something bigger, better, and greater. God is using all the suffering in our life for his good purposes. Often times, like Joseph, we can’t see the whole picture of what God is doing while we are in the middle of it. Maybe all we see is the pain and unending waiting. But we can hold onto the truth that God is going to work all things out our for good and God will be with us, as He was with Joseph.
So yes, I am Joseph! And maybe as you look at your life, you are Joseph too. Maybe God has brought sudden or unjust suffering into your life. The big question to ask yourself then is “what is my response?” Remember, it’s okay to feel hurt and pain. In fact, if you don’t feel any pain as you suffer I’d be worried that something is wrong with you. What really matters the most is what you do with the hurt? Do you dwell on it and let it lead you to despair. Or do you get up and keep on chasing after God and serving him in the place your at, trusting that God is going to do something great through it.
Let us hold onto the truth that God is always with us through every trial we face. Every season of suffering has a purpose that we may not be able to see until the time is right. But we can know this, God is taking us down these hard paths because he wants to prepare us and make us into something greater! God’s purposes for your life are so much greater than whatever it is you have lost, so let’s be like Joseph and keep on suffering well in this life!