Chapter 3 – God is with Us in the Midst of our Suffering

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Introduction

We have just walked through the Christmas season, a time when paper flies like folded aeroplanes, ribbons flapping beneath their wings, packages meet pocket knives, and shiny new toys spring from their wrappers. Some have batteries, some “batteries not included;” socks and sweaters fill the gaps between. One package sits alone, opened, unused. It could be a car missing a wheel, or rocking horse who lost his rock, an ipad with a cracked screen, or pen with ink-well dry. These are the gifts mixed with tears, falling until our well is dry. These are the broken ones.

Have you ever received something in the mail only to find that, beneath the love-writ card and packaging tape, its broken. Boxing Day shops are not just for people looking at the flyers, prowling the halls, seeking that new toy their gift-cards might devour. Beneath the “returns” sign hangs a tired worker with no time for the holidays, head lower than the hearts of those in her line.

“It didn’t fit!” or “I didn’t want this!” or “It was broken.” She hears the complaints, sees the disappointment on their faces, feels the sadness in her finger-tips: tap, tap, tapping away on the box of a computer, itself complaining at what’s inside.

Return policies: “30 day, money back guarantee!” Thirty days of hell for the store clerks. Insurance policies: “2 year warranty, pay the price of the item over again to make it 10!” Even our postal service has insurance, a guarantee to give those downcast faces hope when they’re broken inside.

Sometimes things break from no fault of our own. They arrive that way. And sometimes… people break too. They can even arrive that way, but there is always hope amidst the brokenness. No, there are no return policies for people—though some parents wish there were at the first night of screaming sleeplessness—but there is insurance. Not two years, five years, or ten. No, God’s insurance comes with a life time guarantee. The calligraphy of his blood reads, “if you’re suffering, I will walk with you. If you break, I will fix you. If your heart needs a renovation, a renewal… well, there are return policies on those. Just give your broken one to me, and I will make it brand new. Free of change to you. I have already paid the cost.”

God is with us in the midst of our Suffering

We don’t always know what lies ahead of us in life. What’s over that next hill, or around the bend? Only the tow truck driver knows after the third call tonight that the roads are iced over, and drivers are unaware of the suggested speed sign beneath the darkness of graffiti paint. Sometime we crash, suffer, bleed—there is no insurance against that—but the crash isn’t so fatal with the breath of life in our lungs; the night isn’t so dark with the light of the world by our side.

Our journey never starts in the ditch. We fill the tank, pack some sandwiches, and boot up the GPS. Brokenness Valley is not a way point on our route. We don’t choose to drive off the road (unless the GPS tells us to), but no matter our best intentions there are two ditches, one straight path, and two are stronger than one.

Joseph didn’t start in the ditch. That pit wasn’t plugged into his GPS. He was a dreamer, thought that the rest of the sky was only still up there because it hadn’t yet realized he stole the rainbow for his coat.

Israel believed in his dreaming son, encouraged him to think big, favoured him above all his other sons. Who wouldn’t want to be loved, favoured, desired? What kind of a son would deny a father who said, “If I could take the rainbow from the sky and give it to you, I would.” But is it this blessing that brought Joseph to his knees. It was through his father’s over-flowing love that the pit entered the scene.

His brothers wanted to kill his dreams. Joseph had barely shaken off his training wheels when they jammed a stick in his spokes. “You’re not going anywhere, dreamer!” They wanted to kill him, get rid of the boy, but Reuben said, “let’s just throw him in a pit. Let the wilderness take care of the rest.”

Now, with bruised skin and a broken heart, Joseph thought, “it can’t get worse than this!” But not long after his brothers stole his rainbow coat, the rain came, and there was no hope in sight. It dripped down, torture from his brothers words, “let’s sell him instead! Get something out of the little brat!” As the ropes wound around Joseph’s wrists, thirty pieces of silver rained from the slavers hands to his kin.

Joseph wasn’t warned around the pit. The sky didn’t even hint at grey clouds of betrayal, and when he was sold again, in Egypt, he didn’t have any hint of how much longer those storm clouds would hang above him.

From rainbow coat to slave’s rags, Joseph walked the path of his story. When the pages turned, he hoped that maybe the next one would be blank, maybe he could have a break. Even if it didn’t end well, at least it would end.

No one knows the end of the story except the Author, and God listened to Joseph’s tears. He felt the pain as he wrote the words on the page, cried with this man who had to walk through the darkest parts of his tale. God was with him in the midst of his suffering, and the story wasn’t over yet. God had a plan for this favoured youth turned slave.

“The LORD was with Joseph.” Even before the plan showed the first hint of colour in this youth’s grey skies, God walked with him. Not only did he walk with him, but he turned the brokenness into something beautiful.

Genesis 39:2-4 (pg. 31) – “The LORD was with Joseph, and he was a successful man… his master saw that the LORD was with him and that the LORD made all he did to prosper in his hand. So Joseph found favour in his sight, and served him. Then he made him overseer of his house, and all that he had he put under his authority.”

Joseph saw a glimpse of the sun, but it was hazed over like a spectre from some other season in his life. It taunted him. Yes, he was given great status, a slave to rule over slaves… but a slave still. He wasn’t at home dreaming big with his father. Joseph did not belong here, but God did not forget about him, and Joseph knew it. He felt his favour with every rung up the ladder, heard his voice beneath curtains of his own tears, and felt the breath of life dry his eyes. God was the only friend to this alien far from home.

It is in these times of disappointment when we stop and think of God. And no, it isn’t often with praises on our lips, but sad hearts and curses. Often, when in the pit, we choose to sin. “God, why did you put me here!” We scream. “Why did you take away my family! Where are my friends? God, once I had dreams, but even in my wildest fantasies I didn’t picture this. You have failed me!” Joseph screamed into his pillow at night, unleashing all the pent up rage and sorrow over his pitiful surroundings… but he never forgot God.

It didn’t make sense; it surely wasn’t God’s best, but the LORD was with him. The one who ruled over him, the true lord to this accidental slave, was not Potiphar, but God, and so when sin seeks him to seduce, he does not falter or fail.

Potiphar’s wife was a piece of work. She was a radiant gem hidden in the dark sky. “Perhaps God put her here to give you a break, a reward for your faithfulness.” The serpent hissed in his ear. Such smooth seduction to a man who had lost everything. Pleasure, passion, adventure—and she invited it! She wanted him, and he wanted her. Only a blind man could look away. She was the centre of the room, and she knew it, confidence in every step.

When the ditch pulls us over, we want to kick the car. When we lose our job, the neighbours wallet looks tempting from the dash of his unlocked car. When our spouse yells at us, we want a new adventure. Where is God in our broken marriage? Where is God is the needles that prick our skin and tubes shoved down our throat? Where is God in the darkest parts of our sky? The snake is silent beneath blue skies, but in the darkness, every speck of light is rain in the dessert, and Potiphar’s wife was a storm. But Joseph was faithful amidst his disappointment.

When longing for empty pages to save him from the pain of the tale, how could Joseph deny a few pleasureful paragraphs? How could he deny the sin that looked so good to him? He caught a glimpse of God. He didn’t say, “God, where are you?” but instead praised him through the pain. “Thank you, that you are here. Everyone else has betrayed me.”

He was thrown in the pit again. He climbed the final hung on that ladder before it snapped, feet flailing in the air, he fell. Potiphar’s wife said, “It’s my way or the highway!”… the highway to hell. She convinced her husband that this Hebrew slave, this alien, this disgusting beast tried to rape her. And Potiphar, enraged, cast Joseph into the darkest hole he could find.

The prison smelled of sweat and piss, and Joseph sat there, crying to God. Disappointment took on human form, scarring the faces of the other prisoners in perpetual scowls. Their snarling complaints taunted Joseph’s faith, but he knew his story wasn’t over. God cried on the pages, love touching ink, touching his bruises, washing the dirt from his pores.

Genesis 39:21-23 (pg. 32) – “He was there in prison. But the LORD was with Joseph and showed him mercy, and He gave him favour in the sight of the keeper of the prison. And the keeper of the prison committed to Joseph’s hand all the prisoners who were in prison. … The LORD was with him; and whatever he did, the LORD made it prosper.”

Joseph started climbing those rungs again. God cushions him all the way. From this second pit he climbs, not knowing that there are only two. All he sees are bends and twists, bumps and hills. Perhaps a dead end, or sand storm wait for him, but God isn’t waving a sign at the dead end or fighting the storm, he is right there in the driver’s seat.

No sand storms. No blustering wind. No plagues of biblical proportions. Just seven years of famine, but now God clears the road. Joseph steps from pit to palace, a wave of relief like kingly perfumes to cover the prison stench. Pharaoh has a dream, and Joseph, remembering his youth, chuckles. Those same youthful dreams that sent him into a pit would now bring him out. God showed him the barren land ahead, the worker waving a “proceed with caution” sign.

Joseph didn’t understand it all, but the One in charge knew the way. Even through all the darkness, and suffering, the LORD was with Joseph. He followed God through seven years of plenty, storing up food for the coming famine. The charge was given at Pharaoh’s command, but by God’s design.

Genesis 41:38 – “Can we find such a one as this, a man in whom the Spirit of God is with?”

God turns broken pieces into a beautiful plot.
God was with Joseph in the darkness. Now, as Joseph rises from the ashes of his former life, through the sludge of slavery, we see he rules the land. In a time when food was scarce, Egypt thrived. It was for this that God had sent Joseph there. Joseph couldn’t see Egypt from the pit his brothers stuffed him in, nor could he see the rainbow at the end of the storm when thrown in jail by Potiphar, but God, even in these times was working the broken pieces of Joseph into something beautiful.

Not just Egypt was suffering, but all across the land, people were running out of food. Egypt became the hotspot for beggars and thieves. People travelled for miles for the chance at buying some food from the only nation with the knowledge of God on their side.

God’s plan saved many people over those seven years, but not just any people. Who might it be that came into town by Joseph’s brothers, his kin from Canaan land. They didn’t come looking for him, finally realizing the error of their ways. No, they thought he was dead, and if not, who would expect him to be in charge of Egypt in all ways but by name?

Joseph was all grown up now. That young dreamer turned slave was now an Egyptian lord. But the best part is Joseph could now save his brothers who once abandoned him. God looked down over the pages of His Story and saw the famine coming. When he promised Abraham that he would be a great nation, no famine’s were in the forecast. Abraham had his own problems, but the serpent in this chapter shows up in the grain. He seeks to wipe out God’s promise, show him to be a liar. The Author had other plans.

Genesis 45:7-8 (pg. 39) – “God sent me before you to preserver posterity for you in the earth, and to save your lives by a great deliverance. So now, it was not you who sent me here, but God.”

Joseph’s brother say, “If we had only known the serpent was in our ears. If we could have seen his plan. Joseph, we don’t deserve your compassion, but please sell us some grain!” And their brother replies, “I will do you one better. Come, you have a home here in Egypt, and don’t trouble yourself about the sins of our past lives. God took the snake and turned him on his head. God sent me here to save his promised people from starvation.”

Genesis 50:19-20 (pg. 42) – “… am I in the place of God? But as for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, in order to bring it about as it is this day, to save many people alive.”

God took a broken family, an enslaved son, and a broken-hearted father and turned them into something beautiful. He took a slave and made him a ruler. He turned the betrayed into a blessing. God takes a mess and says, “I can work with that.”

Conclusion

How does your story look? Is it messy? Are you suffering? Maybe you’re in the ditch yelling at God. “Where are you God? Can’t you see I’m sick! Can you see my mom dying? God, I can’t take one more bill without a paycheck! Why did you put me in this horrible marriage? I’ve served you all my life. Why would you let me kids get so lost!” You don’t have to yell. He’s right there with you. He’s sitting by your side saying, “I know it hurts. It hurts me too. If you could only see what I have in store for you. Just wait til we’re around the next bend. You’ll see.”

Only the Author truly knows how the story will end. If our story looks bleak, we can trust that he is with us. If all we see are grey skies, we can have faith in the promise of his rainbow coming.

Romans 8:28 – “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.”

Not everything looks good all the time. There is no insurance policy against pain. There is no sweater than doesn’t tear, no car that doesn’t break, no heart that doesn’t ache. But, God loves to take all those broken pieces and say, “I can fix that.” It may be unconventional. We might not expect it. He used a famine to redeem his promised nation.

Never give up on God redeeming your story. He will walk with us through the pain, and fashion our mess into something beautiful, because that is who he is. That is what he is like. He didn’t throw away the Creation when sin broke it. He didn’t cast Abraham aside when he was unfaithful. He wouldn’t let a little thing like a famine stand in his way, and he won’t set us aside either. God turns our brokenness into his beauty.

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