Suffering. We all go through it. Some more than others. Whether it’s the deep, heart-crushing pain of great tragedy, the slow death of a dream or the heartbreak of one betrayed, it’s one of the “sure things” in this life. Jesus Himself makes that clear:
Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours.
(John 15:20 ESV)
Our Lord knew it intimately, Himself:
For it was fitting that he, for whom and by whom all things exist, in bringing many sons to glory, should make the founder of their salvation perfect through suffering.
(Hebrews 2:10 ESV)
He was despised and rejected by men;
a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief;
and as one from whom men hide their faces
he was despised, and we esteemed him not.
(Isaiah 53:3 ESV)
And yet, while I know that suffering will be there in my life, I have fallen, as Embracing Obscurity points out, into the trap of the Joseph Principle. Sold into slavery, betrayed by those who should love him, framed for a crime he didn’t commit, stuck in jail for years. We can skip the painful pages and get to the part of the principle we like. Joseph, after all of that, becomes Pharaoh’s right hand man. But the subtle twist of the Joseph Principle goes like this:
If you’ve ever been fired, come up second (or tenth), been broken up with, or had any hope deferred, you’ve likely heard the well-meaning encouragement: “Don’t worry— God just has something even better in store for you!” or “All things work together for good!” or maybe even, “You just keep working hard, and you’ll get what you want in the end.”
Anonymous (2012-09-20). Embracing Obscurity: Becoming Nothing in Light of God’s Everything (p. 117). B&H Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
This has been a hard truth for me to face in my own heart. God’s good may be to never give me the better job, the better boy or the financial security. His good may be to only mold me by painful, hard, or mundane things to make me more like Christ.
God is very clear on why he refines us:
Behold, I have refined you, but not as silver;
I have tried you in the furnace of affliction.
For my own sake, for my own sake, I do it,
for how should my name be profaned?
My glory I will not give to another.
(Isaiah 48:10-11 ESV)
There are many stories of the underdog gaining the top. But are they the majority? Is it half and half? Or is it possible that these stories are far fewer than we think. God is refining us for His sake, for His good purpose. It may mean the wayward child will wander long dark roads away from home and truth and never come back. It may mean the spiritually dark spouse that you married when he or she was on fire for the Lord will be the daily walk of suffering for you as you are bound to a man/woman on the fence. If I was going to apply the Joseph Principal it would be Oh, he will wander away but you just wait! God is going to give you the best…it’s coming. Don’t doubt it. He works all things to the good of those who love him. But my sinful heart hears “good” and I think then all my idealistic dreams will one day become real. I will suffer for a while but then I will get my dream. God is not interested in my dreams of good things. He is interested in making me more like His Son….because that is good. So, I may never have that dream. I may never get out of day in and day out monotony. There are others suffering for their faith, in chains, being beaten, starved and killed. For their good. For the good of those being saved. For the body of Christ. The good that comes with denying all our “self” to be a vessel for Him to fill and use as He sees fit.
It’s hard to wrap my mind around the subterfuge…my enemy is so very clever! But I rejoice in this truth! Greater is He that is in me than he that is in the world.
Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.
(James 1:2-4 ESV)
This doesn’t mean we don’t grieve in our suffering. Jesus agonized to the point of sweating blood over the task God placed before Him (luke 22:41-44). This doesn’t mean we don’t hope and give hope to those suffering. But it cautions us on misapplying scripture. On encouraging in others or in ourselves that the good of God is somehow the same as the good of the world. In many times, and in many lives, they may not be the same.