Joseph & Seeing the Good in the Midst of Evil

Joseph sees the good in the midst of evil. Do we? Or, do we complain constantly about every little thing we suffer without ever stopping to give thanks and praise to God for the good with which we are also blessed?

This is not to diminish our sufferings. Our sufferings are real and sometimes unjust and it’s worthwhile to complain about them from time to time. We see this with Abraham – and the Psalms are full of complaint. But it’s not okay to neglect the other part of it. We must give thanks to the Lord at all times even in the midst of our complaints. If we complain to God about every evil, we must also remember to thank him for every good.

Sometimes, we even blame God for our suffering. Things don’t go our way and we say to God, “I can’t believe this is how you treat your friends,” as if he was the one who visited evils upon us. Or, we look at all the evils in the world – the cruelty visited upon the innocent by war, murder, rape, abuse, and neglect; by poverty and ignorance; by natural disasters, earthquakes, fires, floods, and diseases – and we conclude that no good God could let this happen. By this reasoning, atheists and enemies of God conclude that either there is no God or that God is not good. One important thing to remember is that God is not the author of any of these evils. God did not make death (Wis 1:13). It is our sin that brings all these things into the world. It is my sin. We are to blame and not God, for every evil.

Even so, we might object, “Doesn’t God have the power to prevent these evil consequences of our sin?” Yes, he does. He brings good out of every evil he permits, but he isn’t beholden to any evil. God is all-powerful and can do anything by any means. So, I don’t have all the answers here. I’m not sure there are answers fully comprehensible to our merely human understanding. Yet God alone gives a peace which surpasses all understanding (Phil 4:7). And this is the only kind of peace that there is.

What’s perhaps more remarkable is the seeming preponderance of people who blame God for every evil while neglecting to credit him for every good. We experience a great deal of good in our lives and in creation. I dare say it is very good (Gen 1:31). If it weren’t, the evil destruction of things that goes on would not be so very evil, which it is. There is great good, for which God deserves all the credit. We must strive to see this good.

If you cannot see the good, it’s not because it isn’t there, but simply because you lack the eyes to see – the eyes of faith. If a creature lives in a cave underground all its life and never emerges into the light – and there are these creatures – then it cannot see the sun. Nonetheless, the sun is there, and the sun is good, and the sun is necessary to that very creature’s life. In the same way, there is good, even if we can’t always see it. It is there and it sustains us in being. If you cannot see it now, it doesn’t mean that you will never see it again. Have hope and pray for the gift of faith. The Lord loves you and in his own time and by his own means, he will answer that prayer and give you that gift.

Joseph sees the good. The Lord has clearly given him the gift of faith, I think, and he was not a man unfamiliar with suffering and evil. He experienced a great deal more of it than most – not all – but most of us. He says to his brothers, “I am your brother, Joseph, whom you sold into Egypt” (Gen 45:4). This betrayal by his own brothers (37:18-36) was only the beginning of his sufferings. He would later be falsely accused of trying to seduce his master’s wife and thrown into prison (39:12-20). Some of us know the sting of false accusation. When you do, remember that you are in the good company of Joseph and draw inspiration from his example.

Despite suffering all of this as a result of their crime, Joseph says to his brothers, “And now do not be distressed or angry with yourselves because you sold me here; for God sent me before you to preserve life” (45:5). Do not be angry with yourselves?! That’s what Joseph is concerned about at this point: his brothers’ feelings? He isn’t angry at his brothers who betrayed him and enslaved him. He doesn’t even want them to be angry at themselves! How can this be? If he was angry, I would not fault him. Would you? Yet, he sees the good so clearly, that the evil he has suffered drowns in the good.

You see, the whole land was afflicted with famine, and would be for another five years. Through Joseph’s interpretation of dreams, God had revealed this to Pharaoh, and so Egypt had prepared for the famine. And this now enables Joseph to provide food for his family throughout the famine and preserve their lives. So, he concludes that it was not his brothers who sent him to Egypt, but God (45:8). This is a stunning faith and ability to see the good.

Though he lived long before Christ, Joseph not only fulfills what Christ commands us – that is, “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” – he even surpasses this command (Matt 5:44). He not only loves those who tried to do away with him, he even tries to convince them that they have not sinned against him, but that it was the work of God (cf. St. John Chrysostom’s Homily 64 on Genesis).

Like Joseph, let us not focus so much on recovering our ease and comfort when we find ourselves in trouble and distress that we forget to always seek and offer thanks to the Lord for everything that is good.

image: By Sailko (Own work) [CC BY 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

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Fr. John R.P. Russell is a husband, a father of four, and a priest for the Byzantine Ruthenian Catholic Eparchy of Parma. He is the administrator of St. Stephen Byzantine Catholic Church in Allen Park, Michigan. He is also a lifelong painter, particularly influenced by abstract expressionism and iconography. He has an M.Div. from the Byzantine Catholic Seminary of Ss. Cyril and Methodius and a B.A. in art with a minor in religion from Wabash College. He has been blogging since 2007: Blog of the Dormition

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