As I continue to think about the practical implications of believing that God providentially preserves and governs all that is (even during a pandemic and “shelter in place”!), I have to admit, I’m in awe. At the end of Romans 11, Paul cries out with the same kind of amazement when he says, “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!” There is a close connection between the providence of God and His wisdom, and frankly, it is mind-blowing.
The story of Joseph’s life is a great example (although only one of many) of this providential wisdom. The detailed account we are given from Genesis 37-50 reveals that God is actively governing and directing all of history to His desired end according to the counsel of His will. When Joseph tells his brothers, “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good,” he is displaying the providence mindset. His worldview and perspective on all that takes place around him and to him includes the active participation of God Himself. God sent me here (cf. Genesis 45:4-8).
Just consider what that statement entails. God sent me here means that God not only knew but intended and designed for Joseph to endure more than a decade of suffering at the hands of multiple human agents (what’s a few months locked down in comparison?). His brothers sold him, Potiphar’s wife lied about him, and Pharaoh’s cupbearer forgot him. Humanly speaking, that’s outrageous, it is unfair, and those human agents are culpable—that is, they are guilty and worthy of justice for their crimes!
But Joseph is able to see beyond their guilt to God’s goodness and His wisdom. At some point, Joseph realizes that even these apparently evil and inexplicable tragedies in his life actually have deep meaning and purpose. That understanding then allows for him to be more patient than we might believe is possible. Not only is he patient, he genuinely forgives those who sinned against him and goes on to provide for them. Vengeance is the Lord’s… but so is this fascinating and mysterious invisible hand of providence.
Just think back to all that had to take place and work perfectly together for Joseph to get to the right hand of Pharaoh and oversee the FRP (the Famine Rescue Plan!). Yes Joseph was sold by his brothers but there is more to the story. First, Joseph was loved in a unique way by his father, Jacob. The other brothers knew this, it caused jealousy. Second, Joseph had a series of dreams that God gave to him and he shared those dreams with his brothers. Humanly speaking, not terribly wise of Joseph! Divinely speaking, it led toward another step in saving the promise and the world. Keep following along.
When the brothers were planning to kill Joseph which would have, of course, made it quite difficult for him to get to Egypt, Reuben stepped in and suggested they put him in a pit instead (planning to rescue him after the brothers left). That saved Joseph, at least for the time being. Once they put him in the pit, isn’t it an interesting coincidence (read: providence) that some Ishmaelites happened to be walking by? So instead of leaving him in a pit to die (or be rescued by his brother—what would that evening’s dinner been like if Reuben showed up with Joseph in tow?), Joseph is sold and makes his way to Egypt.
Once in Egypt, I wonder what details had to fall into place for Potiphar or his representatives to decide to purchase Joseph. And, of course, the good providence of Joseph’s good looks allows for him to be pursued by Potiphar’s wife. What led to the house of Potiphar being empty that fateful day, leaving just Potiphar’s wife and Joseph in the home together? Seems arbitrary, maybe strange? God is ordering all things, all events, according to the counsel of His will.
There’s more, what about once Joseph is in prison—lied about by this wicked woman. If he hadn’t been sent to prison, the cupbearer would never have had his dream interpreted by Joseph which means that the cupbearer would never have been able to give Pharaoh an idea of where he might go for a faithful interpretation of his dream. There’s something else here. If the cupbearer had remembered Joseph sooner than two years after he was set free, Joseph may have been let go, moved back to Canaan, and no longer around for Pharaoh’s dream. Go ahead, say it with me (and Paul), “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!”
Of course, there is still more. If Joseph was not around when Pharaoh had his dream, who would have known that God was granting seven years of plenty before seven years of famine? The famine wasn’t in Egypt alone but impacted “the world” including Canaan where Jacob and the brothers were. They believed they would die without some help and we have no reason to doubt them. If Jacob and his sons didn’t survive, what would happen to the promise of God and the coming seed of Abraham? All would be lost.
In other words, if Joseph isn’t sold into slavery, Jesus isn’t born into this world. And if Jesus isn’t born into this world, we have no hope.
But here’s what the providence of God teaches us—we have certain hope because of the vast and glorious wisdom and knowledge of our God. Nothing happens outside of His will; nothing occurs outside of His care. He will wisely and deliberately work “all things according to the counsel of his will (Ephesians 1:11).”
In other words, even today during this pandemic and shelter-in-place, God is active. He is actively working all the details out for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28). The battle with this disease, the time home, the struggle with anxiety, the opportunities for conversations, even the economic downturn, all of these things are being ordered and directed by God’s meticulous providence, His wise providence.
So we can embrace each day, each struggle, each disappointment with hope—we know that there is meaning even if we don’t know that meaning now. Thomas Watson (a Puritan writer) says that “Providence is a Christian’s diary, but not his Bible.” We live according to His Word, but we look back and often can see the wisdom of His Work. How exciting to look back and see that invisible hand that got us to where we are!
The providence mindset that Joseph had must be ours too. It is the mindset that includes:
Faith to see beyond (and behind) the present circumstances
Confidence that there is meaning to each moment
Patience to endure the present suffering
Grace to forgive those who have wronged us
Love for the one who is Lord over all
May this mindset be ours today and forever.