God’s providence is not blind, but full of eyes. –John Greenleaf Whittier, poet
When Joseph’s brothers saw that their father was dead, they said, “It may be that Joseph will hate us and pay us back for all the evil that we did to him.” . . . Joseph wept when they spoke to him. His brothers also came and fell down before him and said, “Behold, we are your servants.” But Joseph said to them, “Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.” Genesis 50:15-20 (ESV)
We are not always (at least initially) willing participants in what can become a healthy wilderness journey. Life brings with it seasons and experiences not of our choosing.
Perhaps we’ve been shunned or rejected. Maybe we’ve been forced to relocate. We may be plagued with chronic pain or sickness. A new direction in life might mean less time with old friends, while the loss of a loved one or a broken relationship can easily send us into lonely, unfamiliar territory. New adherents to the Christian faith will sometimes find that they have come down from the mountain of salvation only to be rejected by friends and family and that the family of God around them fails to behave like a family in any practical capacity.
Strange as it may seem, there are times when God guides us into the wilderness without our recognizing His hand in the process. Such circumstances can make little sense as we grapple to understand whether our isolation is the work of a sovereign God, wayward humans, or an evil devil. Processing our adversity through a filter of faith is essential regardless of how we come to find ourselves in the wilderness.
Jacob’s son Joseph went through such an experience. Perhaps he played a role with his attitude, but what his brothers did by selling Joseph into slavery was unconscionable. It simply should not have happened. But happen it did; more than once the young man found himself isolated with little or no support. Joseph’s response to mistreatment and neglect stands as one of the brightest examples in all of Scripture.
Joseph never questioned God’s faithfulness for apparently failing to act on his behalf, but stood strong in faith, and faithful in purity, refusing to allow bitter thoughts to overrun his lonely mind. In the end, it became clear that a sovereign, loving God had used sinful human choices to accomplish a spectacular feat: an outcast Hebrew teenager had become the second in command of the most powerful nation on earth!
Joseph was not entirely unique. Abraham, Moses, David, and many others experienced wilderness seasons not of their choosing. But, somehow, each was able to see that beyond selfish human choices, and even demonic schemes, the hand of God was moving to accomplish powerful, unseen purposes.
Our Response Matters!
More than anything else, it’s our response that makes the difference in a wilderness situation. If we respond by trusting God regardless of the actions of others, powerful blessings will follow—and not just for us alone. But if we react with anger, cynicism and suspicion, our isolation morphs into dark tunnels marked by mournful endings.
Though a wilderness experience may not be of our choosing, how we choose to process such circumstances falls squarely on our own shoulders. Our sovereign God is able to turn even sinful human choices toward His desired, excellent ends. That, my friends, is one of the things that makes Him God!