From the Ashes Comes Life and Joy
The pain we endure at the hands of another's harsh words or actions can be demoralizing and can literally cloud our vision. We loathe that person and find a hundred reasons why they should apologize and make reparations for their sin. Meanwhile, those who have wronged us continue their lives with no thought to our miserable plight. It seems as though the God of justice has gone on vacation.
My week has been filled with some devotional material based upon the life of Joseph, the young son of Jacob (Israel) (In Genesis). I have enjoyed tracing the steps of Joseph as his story of wonder, horror, and redemption have risen to the surface of scripture. You remember the story. Joseph, blessed of God to be a 'dreamer' and one who spoke boldly about godly things, was disliked by his older siblings. The older brothers seethed at Joseph's favor with their father and the coat of many colors was the breaking point.
Seized by his brothers and thrown into a well, then sold to traveling merchants (slavers), to finally land in Egypt hundreds of miles from home, Joseph's story unfolds with horrific detail. One who pledged to follow God, who spoke prophetic things, and was given the gift of dream interpretation, was now in a place far from comfort. Why? God has the answer to our 'why?'. Here is the 'why?' described in the 45th chapter of Genesis.
"Then Joseph could no longer control himself before all his attendants, and he cried out, “Have everyone leave my presence!” So there was no one with Joseph when he made himself known to his brothers. And he wept so loudly that the Egyptians heard him, and Pharaoh’s household heard about it. Joseph said to his brothers, “I am Joseph! Is my father still living?” But his brothers were not able to answer him, because they were terrified at his presence. Then Joseph said to his brothers, “Come close to me.” When they had done so, he said, “I am your brother Joseph, the one you sold into Egypt! And now, do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you. For two years now there has been famine in the land, and for the next five years there will be no plowing and reaping. But God sent me ahead of you to preserve for you a remnant on earth and to save your lives by a great deliverance." (Genesis 45:1-7, NIV)
The old adage "can't see the forest for the trees' comes into play here.
A few months ago, Tracie and I walked along the Canal Towpath beside the Juniata River between Mifflin and Juniata County. As we walked, we inspected the trail on both sides, admired the flowing river, and watched the occasional Norfolk Southern train go rolling by. The trail is uneven, roots litter the path, and slippery spots have the capability of causing a fall. The steep incline down to the river's edge at times is another possible snare for the unobservant. Amidst all of those issues was another, less obvious yet visible, part of the trail. Though we walked by dozens of Ash trees, it never occurred to us of the number and symmetry of them.
At the southeastern end of the path, we stopped beside the river's edge and took some photos. As we looked back in the direction we had come from, I mentioned the continual line of Ash trees that line the path. It was uncanny to see it from a distance and we would have never noticed them as we walked right by dozens of these giant trees.
(Note the white branches of the Ash trees that line the river's edge.)
In some ways the Ash trees are much like the indiscretions of others. We walk by them and live through them. We never consider the placement of them nor do we understand their significance. In looking in the rearview mirror do we realize the pattern that emerged and even then we ask why we had to walk through that season of pained existence. God, however, sees the beauty of the events that brought us to this point and only when we fully submit and trust God in the finest details of our lives (Yes, even the painful ones) can we truly enjoy the transformative work that God does with the worst of our days.
Back to Joseph's story. He was hated by his brothers. Cast off like a used and tattered blanket. It would seem that God wasn't aware or didn't care of Joseph's plight. Meanwhile, God was tailoring a design for redemption and restoration within the nation of Israel and His people. Behind the scenes (In plain sight) God was working then for Israel and is working now in each of our lives of unrest and trial.
Walking the path of life and faith, requires us to have situational awareness and to be cognizant of each footfall. Most often though, we lose the clarity of God's design of our lives in the chaos of the world around us or in the injuries cast upon us by family, friends, and complete strangers. We stumble. We view life as a minefield with no discernable map for navigation.
It's time to stop, reconnoiter, and seek the face of God who has never stopped looking at us, treasuring us, and guiding us through the injuries we've suffered at the hands of others. If we are brave enough to seek and trust God, then a beautiful pattern of peace and redemption will emerge from an otherwise bleak picture of twists and turns, speed bumps, and potholes.
In the end of all things painful, we might be able to offer forgiveness to those who have harmed us and be able to say as Joseph said to his brothers,
"You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now
being done, the saving of many lives. So then, don’t be afraid. I will provide for you and
your children.” And he reassured them and spoke kindly to them." (Genesis 50:20-21, NIV)
Sin and evil will always produce pain and suffering in the world. God will always balance the scales of injustice by providing holy restoration and deep-seated joy if we're tuned into it. From the ashes we rise not because we are strong but because God is.
"A Musing Pastor"