Hello, I’m Daniel Westfall on the channel “Pray With Me”.
This is our fourth episode on the problem of evil, as we ask, “Why does a loving and powerful God permit so much evil in the world?”
Today we look at Joseph in the Old Testament. His father Jacob had 12 sons by two wives and two slaves, creating a complicated family dynamic. Joseph, son number 11, was his father’s favorite, and his brothers’ least favorite.
Once, when the ten older brothers were herding sheep, Jacob sent Joseph to see how they were doing. They were doing just fine without Joseph, so they sold him into slavery in Egypt, dipped his coat in goat’s blood, and took it to their father, saying, “Is this your son’s coat?” Father Jacob was devastated.
In Egypt, Joseph suffered through slavery, trumped up criminal charges, and prison, until he was vindicated and promoted to ruler of Egypt, second in command to Pharaoh. He helped his big boss prepare Egypt for seven years of famine.
During the famine, Joseph’s 10 older brothers came from their starving home in Canaan to buy food in Egypt. Joseph recognized them, but they didn’t recognize him. Joseph tested them until he was confident they regretted treating him badly. Then he held a lost-brother reveal party, and invited them to emigrate to Egypt so he could look after them.
Years later, when father Jacob died, the ten were afraid Joseph would finally execute revenge on them for selling him into slavery. But Joseph said to them, “Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God? You intended to harm me, but God meant it for good, to save many lives” (Gen. 50:24). God was at work in the brother’s evil plans, using them as part of his good plan.
In the Book of Acts, Peter addresses a similar theme. He says to the Israelites, “Jesus was handed over to you by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge, and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to a cross” (Acts 2:23). It’s like Joseph told his brothers: “You executed evil on your victim, but God incorporated even your evil actions in his good plan.”
When Kate Bowler, a Duke University professor, was diagnosed with stage IV colon cancer, she wrote the book, Everything Happens for a Reason: and Other Lies I’ve Loved (United States: Random House, 2019). The title reminds me of the version of Romans 8:28 I memorized as a child: “All things work together for good to those who love God.” A better translation is: “In all things, God works for the good of those who love him.” It’s not “everything” that is working together for good. Rather, God is the active agent, he is working in everything–in Joseph’s slavery, in Kate Bowler’s cancer, even in Jesus’ crucifixion.
Our father, we have said many words we wish we could unsay. We have done many deeds we wish we could undo. We have seen pictures we would unsee and read books we would unread.
But you are a God who works in everything. You worked through the death threats of Joseph’s brothers, through the trumped up charges and execution of Jesus, through Kate Bowler’s battle with cancer.
Help us believe that you are at work in our lives and our world. Work through the violence of war. Work through the untimely deaths of children. Work through the machinations of politicians and the consumerism of society and the lies of conspiracy theories. O God, bring about your own conspiracy, a conspiracy of love and justice and salvation.
I’m Daniel, on the channel “Pray with Me”.
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