A brief look at the lives of Joseph and Esther – heroes of faith and action – quite effectively illustrate how God’s will can be found in confusing, even contrary circumstances. Their stories highlighting the fact that we are never promised an easy, problem-free life as believers; in fact, just the opposite. Jesus assuring us of an exchange of better things for the good we may be required to give up in following him, reminding us of the fact of his persecution, which would only reasonably lead to the same for those choosing to follow in his foot- steps. (Mark 10:30; John 15:20) Paul confirms these statements with, “In fact, everyone who wants to live a Godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted,…” 2 Timothy 3:12 Going on to explain that, as children of God, we are co-heirs of heaven with Christ, but only, “…if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.” Romans 8:17 Throughout his writings, it becomes evident that Paul sees blessing and hardship, good and bad occurrences as part of a process; of patience learned, perseverance developed, strength realized, witness achieved and heaven attained. Stating that, “I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.” Philippians 3:10 Affirming the truth of Romans 8:28 “…we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”

But the question remains: Does God make bad things happen? I believe he allows some things to happen to test and develop us beyond our present abilities. He may make some things happen as we stray from the path of right living in an effort to restore us. (See Hebrews 12:7-11 on the topic of God’s disciplining those he loves. Discipline even for our own good rarely seen as such at the time.) He may very well punish us for bad behavior. But much of the bad that happens to us we bring on ourselves as a result of poor choices and inappropriate activity – wondering afterward, ‘How could God let this happen?’ And then some things happen as a result of our living in a “fallen” state. The world will not be perfect, sickness and disease will inflict itself on us, accidents will take place about us, tears and trouble will plague us until Christ returns. In the meantime we should develop Paul’s attitude expressed as, “…we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.” Rom. 5:3,4The hope only Christ can give – of overcoming in the long run, of everything working out according to God’s timing; the ability to be a strong witness regardless – and possibly because of – what we see as contrary circumstances. “That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weakness, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties, for when I am weak, then I am strong.” 2 Corinthians 12:10 As it is only when I pull myself out of the way and allow Jesus to live in me – through me – that I have the capability for strength. When we expect God to make something good in the midst of bad, then we find the strength to keep on keeping on. When I do right regardless of what others think or do, even when it’s difficult to tell whether it’s paying off or not, then I will be strong in Christ-likeness.

JOSEPH (Genesis 37-50) – is a prime example; favored by his father and by God. By his father because he was a son of his favorite wife and because he was attentive, obedient and responsible. By God for the latter three reasons. But his favored position and youthful indiscretion guaranteed jealously among his brothers and irritation even from his father. As a result, festering jealousy erupted into hate-filled acts; Joseph was thrown into a well, intended for murder, but sold into slavery as a compromise. He was taken by slave caravan to Egypt and sold again to the house of Potiphar, the captain of Pharaoh’s guard. Had enough yet? Do you think if you were Joseph you would be looking for a silver lining to this dark cloud you seemed to be under, looking for the good to come out of it or for any sense to be found in it?

His actions indicate he fought through the paralyzing fear, the confusion and anger at seemingly being betrayed by men and God alike and looked to Him to bless anyway. In the process he excelled as Potiphar’s household administrator; learning first humility, then administration, economic and people skills – as it was now his responsibility to keep the household of Potiphar on schedule and running efficiently while keeping peace among the other household servants and slaves. In the process, he unintentionally attracted the attention and interest of Potiphar’s wife, is accused of a crime he did not commit and goes to jail. (Praising God for this new and interesting opportunity to serve and learn? I doubt it, more likely asking, ‘Why? What did I do to deserve this? Are you listening God? Do you care? How could you let this happen – again?’) He may have allowed himself a bit of self-pity. It certainly would have been understandable, but again, his response would indicate he didn’t search long for answers that were beyond him at the moment. He just got up and went back to work, I believe fully expecting God’s blessing again, at least tying to make the best of a bad situation; fully illustrating how hardship makes some people bitter, others better.

As a result, he became administrator of the prison he was confined in; furthering his skills as a provider, developing humility and compassion more deeply through people skills of a different sort, as the people he now came in daily contact with were the outcast, trouble-makers, falsely accused and condemned. But he was now in a position to come to the aid of Pharaoh as well. (I bet he knew that and was just thanking God for this opportunity – don’t you? He obviously didn’t, but despite it all remained available!) As a result of his dream interpreting and practical advice he was rewarded handsomely. He had saved Pharaoh’s mind, his political standing among the Egyptian people and in fact, the nation of Egypt itself. Consequently he received a position of power subservient only to Pharaoh himself. And last, but not least, Joseph was now in a position to save his own family and consequently the Jewish race as well.

Genesis 45:5 & 7,50:19 illustrate the extent to which Joseph had placed his trust in God and accepted his Lord’s timing in working all things for good. Upon revealing himself to his brothers as not only the second most powerful man in all Egypt but also their long-lost brother, they became a bit concerned about what kind of punishment this man intended for them. He reassured them by saying, “…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.” Did God make these bad things happen to Joseph? I don’t know that He did, but He did allow them to happen; the end result being the same. Perhaps because for Joseph to be used in a mighty way he needed to grow, to learn, to become something other than what he would have if he’d stayed at home. This required him to be taken out of his comfort zone, to learn things to a degree and in a way he certainly would not have chosen. And I bet Joseph spent time confused, scared and angry. He probably didn’t shout, ‘Thank God for another problem, I’m gonna grow some more!’; but he doesn’t appear to have spent much time in self-pity and dejection either. His strength came from his trust in God to make good from bad. To be able to be knocked all the way down yet taking a deep breath, pushing himself up, dusting himself off and wiping the tears from his eyes – and going on; doing what he could do, what he knew to do even as he tried to understand what was going on around him. In the end he could say to those responsible, “Don’t be afraid. …You intended me harm but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.” Genesis 50:19

Check back next week for an equally interesting look at Esther, another obedient servant of God who allowed Him to work His will in her life for the benefit of others and, in the long run, herself.