Twisted But Beautiful

My head tells me that suffering is a natural part of life, but my heart tells me to avoid pain, to figure out a way to be exempt from pain, to do whatever I can to erase pain. My natural response to life is to slow down the aging process, vindicate myself against people who fail me, smooth things over, and work overtime to squelch the thorns of frustration involved in the regular recurring things of life on planet earth. Wishing to turn back the things that should have never happened – a fender bender, a broken dish, a jammed printer, a throbbing tooth, a fractured arm, a WiFi outage, credit card theft, the list goes on. Meanwhile laboring to prevent these frustrations of life as an ongoing occupation of the mind and body.

I have always loved the story of Joseph in Genesis 37-50 and the conclusion in Genesis 50:20 when Joseph says to his brothers, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.” If you follow the story more closely, you will find that God was always near and accessible to Joseph, even in prison. God did not leave Joseph alone, but blessed him with compassionate daily provisions that sustained him.

If we will simply dare to look, looking for those compassionate daily provisions is an ongoing occupation of the mind and body that is fruitful and life-sustaining. Finding those compassionate daily provisions is possible with an eye on the goodness of God and His promise in Romans 8:28 that “He causes all things to work for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose.”

As believers, imagining our suffering as our number one enemy in life is terribly short-sighted and self-focused. However, interpreting our suffering in light of sincerely trusting God removes the wasting of pain. If we take the long view and focus on His glory, unwasted pain becomes an eternal investment. Trusting God in our suffering includes the heavenly dimension of the greater things He seeks to accomplish. Pain then possesses meaning, not randomness. And, God’s trademark is turning suffering into benefit, tears into joy, loss into redemption, earthly into heavenly, fear into courage, darkness into light, doubt into faith, death into life.

I so need God’s perspective to be able to see that pain doesn’t have to be wasted. If I believe that God uses pain to draw me into greater dependence on Him, I might stop to ask myself what I have erroneously been dependent upon other than God. If I realize that I am not just a physical being, but a spiritual being, I might be able to see beyond the assaults on my body and mind and claim the truths of Romans 5:3-5 which says, “Not only so, but we glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.”

The evil actions of Joseph’s brothers seemed to shatter his life as a teenager. Selling younger brother Joseph into Egyptian slavery was a monumental crime, yet his life was spared from death – a compassionate daily provision. Even as a slave, Joseph served Pharaoh diligently. Joseph maintained his integrity. Joseph depended on God. There were daily compassionate provisions as Joseph rose to roles of responsibility, even in prison after the false charges of Potiphar’s wife. Once again, Joseph maintained his integrity and was called out of prison to interpret Pharoah’s dreams. He indicated that it would be God only who could interpret dreams, not man. So, God enabled him to interpret Pharoah’s dreams. Another daily compassionate provision.

I’m looking for God’s compassionate daily provisions. Although I’m not in prison, I have had some self-pitying moments about the pandemic being like prison. Yet I’ve visited friends and family often, in non-traditional ways. I have been graced to have pretty days to go on morning walks with my daughter who lives close by. I have been blessed to have a car that works fine. And, I have been able to be creative in the acquisition of groceries and other supplies. Suffering might have simply been more mental than physical during the last year or so – with fears surrounding an invisible health menace, questions about life ever getting back to what was felt to be normal, concerns about a divisive and hate-filled country, wonder about a teetering economy, and general fatigue over inconveniences involved in waiting on God’s compassionate daily provisions. But, those compassions were definitely there.

I need to open my eyes. When pain isn’t wasted, I can be free to see the compassionate daily provisions of the Holy Spirit – perseverance, character, and hope. God will expose something important and turn a season of suffering into benefit. God is faithfully working out His purposes. Similar to the pattern of Joseph’s story, we can be sure that what God is now accomplishing is the saving of many lives, His ultimate purpose. We might not know the how or why, but we can be sure that each day contains a compassionate daily provision for those who are in Christ Jesus. This is when the twisting becomes beautiful.

Come Close to Me

Reconciliation is the reason Jesus stooped way down from heaven to suffer human brokenness in physical death, provide atonement for our sins, and provide the ultimate victory for believers – reconciliation with God from Whom we had been estranged since Adam. But, living out reconciliation as believers is still hard. Almost everyday I ask myself “why can’t we all get along?” And then I answer my own question with “I know why, I just wish it could be different…”

What we long for is what only Jesus can provide. Genesis 45:3-5 says, “Then Joseph said to his brothers, ‘I am Joseph! Is my father still living?’ But his brothers were not able to answer him, because they were terrified at his presence. Then Joseph said to his brothers, ‘Come close to me.’ When they had done so, he said, ‘I am your brother Joseph, the one you sold into Egypt! And now, do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you.’ “

One key to reconciliation is “coming close.” God did this “coming close” when He sent His only Son to us to provide a way for our salvation through His death and resurrection. We in turn need to do this “coming close” in our primary vertical relationship with God and then our horizontal relationships with people.

We live with the possibility that we can offer one-way forgiveness to others when they have hurt us, but the reality that we may not be able to experience two-way reconciliation. Isn’t this the model Jesus gave us? He came to provide forgiveness for sin, but seemingly many do not accept the invitation into Christ’s reconciliation and choose to remain lost.

In my educational career, I found that all kinds of hostility and evil could be perpetuated by trying to communicate with colleagues, parents, and students indirectly through social media, email, texts, and letters. Misunderstanding abounded. The absence of body language and facial expressions made imaginations run wild. Missing tone of voice was a setup for confusion.

As walls of misunderstanding were being built up, it always seemed that they came magically tumbling down in face-to-face meetings. Of course, the magic is in the power of the Holy Spirit to break down barriers and move in with love and grace. Physical presence always seemed to light the path. Empathy was made possible. Forgiveness was easier to embrace.

Joseph had already forgiven his brothers for selling him into slavery and not knowing if he was alive or dead many years later. He had been freed from the slavery of unforgiveness. Yet, he longed for reconciliation with his brothers and God made a way for this. It involved “coming close.” Joseph initiated the process of reconciliation as a picture of the way God would initiate reconciliation through Jesus Christ.

If we live out faith in Christ by modeling Him, we need to be initiators of reconciliation. When we are sinned against, we need to make the first move. The first move deals with our own hearts. We need to repent of any part we have played in causing hurt and then forgive others for the hurts they have caused. But then, like Joseph, we need to keep doing the work that is our part – to move in close to those who have caused the hurt, to seek restoration, repair, and rebuilding if it can possibly be re-had.

What we find is that proximity and presence, being in person, being face-to-face, and “coming close” are all barrier-droppers. If you read the story of Joseph, you will see that, even though the process of reconciliation took years, that Joseph was constantly moving toward it. It was his hope, his dream, and his longing to be reunited with his family. It was the work to be done to which he was dedicated. It was the work to be done that depended on God’s grace and mercy to be completed. It was the work to be done that God used for the salvation of many lives, not just Joseph’s family. The picture is usually bigger than what we see, because God is working behind the scenes to continue His offer of salvation to many others.

“Come close to me” is the watchword for moving from forgiveness to reconciliation.