Unplanned destinations

“You intended to harm me, but God intended it all for good. He brought me to this position so I could save the lives of many people.” —Genesis 50:20 (NLT)

Joseph was the first human to be ghosted. His brothers didn’t like him, so they sold him to slave traders, told their father, Jacob, he’d been killed by wild animals, then went about their lives as if he’d never existed.

For Joseph, life didn’t turn out as he’d expected. His story begins in Genesis 37 and it’s a remarkable account of how God saved Israel from starvation through this one man, who endured much undeserved suffering but remained faithful to his God.

Woman comforting man

At the end of his story, Joseph is reunited with his family. His brothers beg his forgiveness and he forgives them for the terrible crime they had committed against him. And he shows the genuineness of his forgiveness by telling them that though they intended to harm him, God brought something good out of his suffering, for Joseph, for his brothers, for all of Israel.

Is that always true? Does God make lemonade from lemons?

And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them. —Romans 8:28 (NLT)

Christians often quote this promise in times of hardship, but in the context of Romans 8 Paul is talking about the hope of glory that helps us endure present troubles and suffering. Our suffering is real. It’s painful. It makes us weep. It saps our strength. It causes us to cry out for relief. A few verses earlier Paul writes that creation is groaning in agony, and we need only look around us to see that it’s true.

And yet, God does sometimes bring something good out of suffering.

The ultimate example of that truth is Jesus Christ, God’s only Son, who was beaten and mocked and nailed to a cross, killed in a horrifically slow and painful process, only to be raised to life again by the power of God. That terrible death and beautiful resurrection was the instrument of our salvation, in fact, the salvation of the entire world.

God exchanges ashes for a beautiful crown (Isaiah 61:3). God mends broken pottery, he restores ripped paintings, he rebuilds broken lives.

And yet, there are sorrows, tragedies, heartbreaks, that are not healed in this life. We blissfully drive down the highways in our automated vehicles and all of a sudden find ourselves arriving at an unplanned destination. Not Disneyland. Not the Champs-Élysées in spring, but a fetid New York alleyway at midnight. Or a hospital emergency room. Or the city divorce court. The list of possible agonies is quite long, isn’t it?

Life can change in an instant, and not always tragically. I was 25, single, working as an electronics engineer for a tiny company in Raleigh, NC when I met Kathy. She was initially uninterested. She was on her way to some far-off land to serve God. I was on my way to making lots of money and upgrading to a hotter car. Instead, through much arm-twisting by God, I married Kathy and we became missionaries in a far-off land.

No sooner had we started to adjust to speaking Spanish than that changed, too, and we headed off, together this time, for another unplanned destination.

And now, my itinerary has changed again, and this time I’m being taken where I don’t want to go.

Christians know that God does not promise a life free from sorrow. As he faced the cross, Jesus said many things to his disciples to prepare them for life without him. He said this:

“I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.” —John 16:33 (NLT)

Take heart. Literally “have courage.” Why? Because these trials and tragedies are not the last chapter of the story. The story of the world and of our lives ends in hope, because Jesus has overcome all the bad stuff, and will make everything good again in time.

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