One of my favorite stories in the Bible is the account of Joseph. Talk about a tumultuous past.
Joseph was the youngest of twelve boys. It’s tough being the youngest, isn’t it? My youngest, Brewer, is six and has one goal in life. Well, actually two. The first one is to be able to accurately hit the toilet while standing up to pee. But his main goal in life is getting his two older brothers to acknowledge him. He watches everything they do and follows them from activity to activity. So whether it’s playing PlayStation, wrestling in the living room, or competing in a game of touch football in the front yard, Brewer is going to be in the middle of it. And nothing, I mean nothing, brings a bigger smile to his face than when his older brothers invite him into their world.
Joseph was favored by his father, which put him at obvious odds with the rest of his brothers. They were filled with incredible jealousy toward him. They beat him up, threw him into a pit, sold him into slavery, and pretended he was dead.
That would be a devastating series of events for any young person, but imagine all of that happening by the hand of your own brothers from whom you crave love and acceptance. Can you imagine how devastating that moment must have been as he looked up from the pit, broken and bruised, only to see the face of his brothers laughing at him?
It’s funny how when someone says they love you, you can’t really feel it, but when someone says or shows they “don’t love you anymore,” you feel every ounce of it draining out of your entire being.
The rejection of his brothers would just be the beginning for Joseph. He would go on to be falsely accused of rape and thrown into prison where he spent day after day wondering where things went wrong, wondering why his brothers hated him. Why had his past been so full of injustice?
Through a remarkable series of events, not only was Joseph released from prison, but he eventually rose to second in command over all of Egypt.
While Joseph was helping lead Egypt, the country endured a vicious drought that forced his brothers to travel to him seeking food for their families. It’s a long story, but eventually not only was Joseph reunited with his brothers, but he also forgave them. In a powerful moment, he looked them in the eyes and said, “You meant evil against me, but God meant it for good”
Another way of putting it is, you meant harm, but God had a different plan. Joseph didn’t try to deny the past. He didn’t pretend that his brothers had never hurt him deeply. But he has the grace to grieve it rather than transfer it.
I love the phrase “but God” and believe a case could be made that it’s one of the most important phrases in the entire Bible. This phrase is used throughout Scripture as a turning point, a line of demarcation between peril and rescue, chaos and control, fall and redemption, hurt and healing.
But God! Every time I read a verse that says “but God,” it is fantastically good news. There are literally hundreds of verses that have “but God” in both the Old and New Testaments:
The psalmist in Psalm 73:26: “My health may fail, and my spirit may grow weak, but God remains the strength of my heart; he is mine forever.”
Jesus in Matthew 19:26: “Humanly speaking, it is impossible. But with God everything is possible.”
The apostle Paul in Acts 13:29-30: “When they had done all that the prophecies said about him, they took him down from the cross and placed him in a tomb. But God raised him from the dead!”
Once we were dead in sin, but God made us alive! Once we were captive to our past, but God made us free! Once we were unworthy, but God has promised to spend eternity unwrapping the riches of his grace in kindness toward us!
There’s no way around the past. No matter how hard you try, you can’t erase it. The goal here is not to become a person who doesn’t have a history—that’s impossible and useless. The goal is to find a new way of working with the past so it does not continue to impact our future. The goal is to fight the inner urge we all have to return to the past.
God is bigger than your history and more concerned with your destiny.