September 17, 2007

God uses it for good

I try to imagine how I would feel if my siblings sold me into slavery. Too hard; we don’t have slavery (at least that kind) in our culture. What about if they disowned me and forced me to move to another part of the country? I can imagine that (even though my siblings would never do such a thing).

Now I’m imagining that I become very successful in that other place, even a leader with great power and influence. (I’ve a good imagination.) Then, my siblings become destitute. In fact, they will die without help. They come to where I live, and I’ve changed so much and have unexpected status so they do not recognize me. However, since I’m in control in that place, I’m the person they must ask for help.

After years of being disowned and abandoned, I don’t know what I would do, but I do know what Joseph did. He tested his brothers to make sure all of them and his father would move to the place where he lived and could take care of them. When they realized who he was, they were terrified, but Joseph said, “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.”

This story thrills me, not only because of the great and generous heart that God put into Joseph, but because God can use what seems like great injustice and travesty to accomplish good things. This Old Testament story throws new light on the disasters in my life.

The promise is repeated in the New Testament. As a new Christian, this is the verse that made a huge impression on me. Romans 8:28 says, “We know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.”

This verse is so familiar, but it gets used out of context. It does not mean that everyone can expect good from “all things.” The promise is for those who love God and are “the called” — a phrase referring to people who have responded to Jesus’ call to repentance and salvation. In this category, Joseph was a man of faith, one who trusted God to send His promised Messiah. Otherwise, he would not be one of the people who could say, “We know. . . .”

This familiar verse has another caveat. It says “according to His purpose.” In Genesis, God’s purpose included putting Joseph into a position where he could rescue his family from a dire famine, but that changes in the New Testament. Instead of physical safety, His promise is for this life and also eternity. It is found in the next verse:

Romans 8:29 says, “For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren.”

I’ve heard so many arguments about the meaning of God’s foreknowledge, and the meaning of predestination, and the meaning of firstborn, that I throw my hands in the air and wonder if anyone notices the part of this verse that is crystal clear: God uses all things together for my good—and that “good” is that I am conformed into the image of Jesus Christ.

This is even more amazing than how God used the abandonment of Joseph to later rescue his family. God, in His incredible and creative wisdom, knows how to take even the disasters and failures in my life to shape me and make me more like Jesus. What a marvelous goal He has for me!

The story of Joseph encourages my cooperation. Joseph could have been bitter, hated those who hurt him, took revenge, and ruined the plan of God. The insight God gave him about a good purpose in that evil is the same as the “We know . . .” of Romans 8:28. I know what God is up to. Therefore I’ve every reason to cooperate with Him and look for ways to obey and allow Him to change me, no matter what happens. He has shown me His purpose for me, and my destiny—and for this, I am grateful and in awe.

Note: I’m also in awe over yesterday’s Bible class. God graciously revealed some truths; I could see it on their faces as we studied. At the end, I asked them to share how what they had read and learned affected them. One newcomer, who admitted she talks too much, opened her mouth and said, “I’m amazed; I’m simply speechless.”

Me too. God is awesome!

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