“You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives” (Gen 50:20 NIV).
If you were to take a number of images of particular scenes from the story of Joseph from the Old Testament and see them in a gallery, you might wonder if this was the same man you were seeing. One painting might show a joyful young man, engulfed in a beautifully colored coat, with his proud father looking on adoringly. You then see a photo graphically depict a blood stained garment, wrapped around a scared boy, at the bottom of a muddy pit. You notice a model of a man, mighty in power and managing a large household with competence and authority. You continue to browse the gallery and watch a dramatized video that could be described as nothing less than a graphic near-miss sex scene where the man ends up in prison. And the up and down and diversity of the images continue. Joseph’s story is hard to characterize in one concise sound bite.
Joseph’s story reminds me of the following Chinese proverb:
There is a Chinese story of a farmer who used an old horse to till his fields. One day, the horse escaped into the hills and when the farmer’s neighbors sympathized with the old man over his bad luck, the farmer replied, “Bad luck? Good luck? Who knows?” A week later, the horse returned with a herd of horses from the hills and this time the neighbors congratulated the farmer on his good luck. His reply was, “Good luck? Bad luck? Who knows?”
Then, when the farmer’s son was attempting to tame one of the wild horses, he fell off its back and broke his leg. Everyone thought this very bad luck. Not the farmer, whose only reaction was, “Bad luck? Good luck? Who knows?”
Some weeks later, the army marched into the village and conscripted every able-bodied youth they found there. When they saw the farmer’s son with his broken leg, they let him off. Now was that good luck or bad luck?
We could quickly construct a similar tale:
A young man was given a special gift from his father, an honoring as his favored son (Gen 37:3). Good luck? Bad luck? Who knows?
This young man’s brothers hated him because of their father’s partiality and took him and threw him into a pit and had him sold to traders from a distant land (Gen 37). Good luck? Bad luck? Who knows?
This man rose into leadership and management in the house of a prominent figure and was put in charge of the household (Gen 39). Good luck? Bad luck? Who knows?
While in this management position his master’s wife approaches him and wants to sleep with him (Gen 39). Good luck? Bad luck? Who knows?
This man is then thrown into prison (Gen 39:20). Good luck? Bad luck? Who knows?
While in prison the man is discovered to have gifts of leadership and Divine understanding and blessing. He rises up in leadership within the prison as well as interpreting dreams for his fellow-inmates. (Gen 39 and 40). Good luck? Bad luck? Who knows?
When one of his fellow-prisoners, and a recipient of his dream interpreting, gets released from prison he puts in a good word for the man and he is released from prison and asked to interpret a dream for the head of the land (Gen 41). And from there our young rises in power and leadership and in the end is able to help his brothers and father and family who would have starved in the famine had it not been for his help (Gen 41-50).
This story is a poignant reminder to me that in any snapshot of my life I can categorize my experience into a box and label it as positive or negative. Or I can look up to God; accept it as part of the journey, look for the blessings, learn the lessons and with trust step forward.