Craftsman image courtesy Pixaby
If only I had persevered and mastered my bonjours, says the voice in my head when I come upon an interesting opportunity that I can’t apply for because it requires a French language speaker. I should have completed that Masters degree – I am hereby letting you in on a little-known fact that I have dropped out of graduate studies twice. I should have taken the plunge and homeschooled my children. I should have taken up that job – an offer I turned down and would now give a lot for it to be offered again.
Missed opportunities haunt me. I see them as the reason I am not living my best life now. Joseph did not live his best life for 13 years. He was first thrown into a well by his brothers who intended to kill him only to be drawn out and sold for 20 pieces of silver to a caravan of traders. They sold him to Potiphar, captain of Pharaoh’s guard. Soon after, he was bundled into prison on the charges of trying to get clever with his boss’s wife. He would be in jail for like … forever. The blip of hope, a light at the far end of the tunnel of dark years was put out by the forgetfulness of a guy who could have mentioned his name at the right places.
Looking at Joseph’s story one sees many opportunities where a different choice would have intervened in his destiny and spared him years of separation from family and wrongful imprisonment.
If only his father Jacob had not so flagrantly favoured him… giving him the coat of many colours was over the top. If only Joseph had been wiser…sharing his dreams with his family openly like that was no wiser than waving a red flag at a bull. Maybe if he had kept the dreams of future greatness to himself his brothers wouldn’t have been murderously jealous of him.
If only Reuben, the first-born brother, did not take a bathroom break just then? Maybe he would have saved Joseph rather than return as he did to the scene only to find his brothers jangling the silver received from the sale of their pesky brother Joseph. Maybe Reuben might have saved him from the enforced immigration to Egypt.
If only Joseph had been more careful with his clothes … never leave your coat behind when running away from an amorous cougar. Maybe Mrs Potiphar would not have had evidence to frame him for sexual assault. If only the cupbearer, one time Joseph’s prison-mate, had remembered him and pleaded his innocence to Pharaoh, he would not have had to spend an extra two years in the dungeon. But no, he promptly forgot when his dream came true and he was restored to Pharaoh’s service.
Regrets, regrets, regrets! I often feel like my own failures, sins, short-sightedness, laziness have derailed me from God’s best plan for my life. If only I had shown more energy or persistence, a more entrepreneurial spirit, worked harder at my studies or in networking … I feel I could be in God’s best plan for my life.
Joseph went on to be reconciled to his family but years later his brothers would still be wondering whether they were fully forgiven. The fear became unbearable after their father’s death and they sent a message to Joseph begging for his forgiveness. Joseph, second only to Pharaoh through a classic prison to palace tale, assured them they had nothing to fear in the timeless words, “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.”
In that statement, we are confronted with the mysterious synergy between God’s plan and people’s choices. How could the evil actions of murderous brothers actually be God positioning Joseph to save people’s lives? Which is which? How did Joseph end up in Egypt, eventually rising to be the second most powerful person in that superpower? Was it the brothers’ actions or God’s doing?
Sometimes when we look back at the real or apparent mistakes we have made, we can feel trapped by our choices and bound in regret. It can feel like there is nothing we can do to disentangle ourselves – the fault is on our stars. This is where some surrender to apathy and give up trying to change or get out of the situation. The hopelessness can further drive us to numb ourselves with whatever poison works for us – work, alcohol, media … whatever.
On the other hand, we can hold onto the belief that it all depends on us. We have to always make the very right choices! This leads us to frantically do whatever we think it takes to get to where we want to go. If it means sacrificing family or our values we do it – we are by ourselves, right?
Joseph’s words pointed to God’s sovereignty. Meaning that God controls all things – a confounding but comforting idea. On the one hand – our choices matter. And so we don’t fall into apathy and fail to put in the effort – we apply for jobs, improve our CVs, talk to whoever we need to talk to. We make efforts to change rather than claim ‘this is how we’re created’. We believe our actions are not futile – they have consequences.
On the other hand, knowing that God is in control, helps us act being at peace, knowing that it does not all depend on us. Rather than feel like your own and others’ sins have derailed God’s perfect plan, you recognise that God’s steadying hand stabilizes this world. The twists and turns of human history and your personal story are within God’s providential care and purposeful plan.
You may mess up, but you cannot mess up God’s eternal plan. God uses even the just consequences of sinful choices for His glory. Yes, 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.
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