Why do bad things happen to good people—specifically me?” Distant tragedies from around the world can lead some to question God, but how many more crises of faith result from personal challenges?
Lots of bumper sticker slogans attempt to address issues of personal theodicy. Perhaps the most popular is this: “God won’t give you more than you can handle.” While meant to encourage, the unintended message is that God causes our pain. As we will see later this week, God does not have a problem handing out uncomfortable assignments on occasion, but sometimes God gets too much credit. Not all the challenges we face are a divine plan; many are the consequences that result from human free will or the laws of nature.
Today’s text does not mention God—which is significant since Genesis seldom fears crediting God’s words or actions. Instead, we read about a series of poor decisions. Israel sends Joseph out alone to check up on brothers who hate him. The brothers plan murder out of jealousy. Nervous Reuben convinces them to throw Joseph in a pit instead, intending to come back and rescue him later. Yet, for some mysterious reason, he leaves Joseph alone with them (see verse 29). The now unsupervised brothers add greed to the mix, capitalizing on the opportunity to sell their brother into slavery.
God may not have caused these actions, but scripture tells us that God was with Joseph through it all. It is not some inten- tional level of suffering that God calibrates on our behalf that helps us get through it all. Rather, it is God’s presence that helps us face whatever challenges come our way.
God, we give thanks that you are with us during difficult times. Help us to recognize where you are present and active, working all things together for the good of those who love you. Amen.
The Genesis text begins the story of Joseph. Things would have turned out very different for Joseph (and for Israel) had it not been for the watchful care of the One who called Israel into being. Psalm 105 brie y recites the saving events in Israel’s life, and this week’s portion remembers the story of Joseph, stressing both the hiddenness and the crucial significance of God’s mercy. In Romans 10 note the manner in which Paul brings the past to bear on the present in terms of God’s saving activity. Notice also Paul’s insistence on the universal availability of salvation. The Gospel lesson of Jesus stilling the storm points to the inexplicable wonder of God’s redeeming love, which can be appropriated and answered only in doxology.
• Read Genesis 37:1-4, 12-28. The writer says, “Not all the challenges we face are a divine plan.” Do you agree or disagree? Why?
• Read Psalm 105:1-6, 16-22, 45b. How well does your memory serve you in times of distress to recall God’s presence and past action?• Read Romans 10:5-15. In what situations have you chosen to rely on God?
• Read Matthew 14:22-33. The writer says that comfort and safety should not be our “primary criteria when discerning and acting on God’s will.” Do you agree? Why or why not?
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