What did Joseph pray from the pit, while his brothers planned to murder him? Was his prayer answered when the plot went from murder to selling him into slavery? How did he feel when he stood falsely accused of attempted rape? What prayers do you pray when days in prison stretch into weeks, and weeks into months, and months into years?
Did Joseph have a glimmer of hope when he interpreted the dreams of the cupbearer and the baker? Did the words “remember me” echo in the prison the day the chief cupbearer was released? Yet days passed into weeks, weeks into months, and months into years. Two years passed before Joseph interprets the dream of Pharaoh—an opportunity that changed his life and the lives of his family.
When Joseph reveals himself to his brothers after two decades of separation, he encourages them with these words: “And now, do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you” (Genesis 45:5, NIV). At their father’s death, Joseph must again reassure his brothers. He says, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives” (Genesis 50:20, NIV).
I suspect that Joseph provides a commentary on Paul’s words. “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28, NIV). Joseph suffered. He really suffered. The problems didn’t go away quickly. He may have wondered, “Why me?” Yet, Joseph maintains his faith, and he reaches a point in his life where he recognizes that although others have intended harm, God has worked for good.
Romans 8:28 is not a Band-Aid that when applied takes all the pain away. Coming from the lips of the non-sufferer at the wrong moment, it may even sting the person who is in pain. Yet Joseph’s story and Paul’s statement remind us that when faith suffers, it does not suffer alone. The God of history is there. The God who understands the cross and the tomb is there. The God who works for good is there. When faith suffers, God has the final word, and the word is “good.”