We all experience suffering. Some will experience greater suffering than others. What is less certain is how that suffering will affect us. What we believe about God will strongly influence our perspective in suffering and the way we will respond. Joni Eareckson Tada, a Christian writer and speaker who was paralysed in a swimming accident at the age of 17, said this: “Without a doubt, what helps us most in accepting and dealing with suffering is an adequate view of God – learning who he is and knowing he is in control”.
One of the greatest stories of triumph in suffering is told in Genesis, the first book in the Bible. As a young boy, Joseph experienced bereavement when his mother died. He was hated by his half-brothers, who eventually sold him to slave traders; in slavery he was wrongly accused and unjustly imprisoned. Nevertheless, despite all those years of hardship Joseph did not become bitter. About twenty years after he last saw them, Joseph was reunited with his half-brothers. Now a powerful ruler under an Egyptian Pharaoh, Joseph could easily have sought revenge, and yet he rejoiced in being reunited with them, reassuring them that what they did in hatred God had used for the good of many.
What did Joseph believe about God that sustained him through his time of suffering? We are not privy to any dialogue between Joseph and God, but there are clues in the story which help us understand how his relationship with God affected his perspective. Several times it is recorded that “the LORD was with Joseph”. Joseph believed that, because God was holy, to do wrong was to sin against Him, as he said when tempted by his slave master’s wife. He also believed that God worked through him in interpreting dreams; for this he gave God the glory. In naming his two sons, Joseph acknowledged how God had made him forget his suffering and had eventually given him success.
When reunited with his brothers, he revealed his belief in the promises that God had made to Abraham, his great grandfather, and repeated to Isaac and to Jacob – a promise of land and a promise of descendants. With that perspective he viewed his suffering as part of God’s plan to preserve Abraham’s family, through whom the nations of the world would eventually be blessed. At his death he looked ahead to a time when God’s people would return to the land God had promised them, and asked that his remains be carried there with them for burial.
In His word, the Bible, God reveals His character and promises to us. Knowing God and resting on His promises gives us perspective in seasons of hardship, helping us come through, refined rather than broken.