Life’s Not Fair!

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)

The story of Joseph in the book of Genesis, the first book in the Bible, provides a wonderful illustration of the truth that while life is not fair, God is in control at all times, working things out to accomplish his purposes. Life may not be fair, but God is, and he has the last say in every matter.

If there was anyone who ever seemed to have a “right” to complain that life was not fair, it would certainly have been Joseph! As a youth God gave him certain dreams about the future which showed that his older brothers would one day be bowing down to him. These dreams, together with his father’s favoritism, caused a deep jealousy and anger among his older brothers. So one day they took advantage of a situation out in the fields to get rid of him, and sold him as a slave to a caravan of traders heading to Egypt. An unfortunate incident, but some could claim Joseph caused some of this problem himself by his arrogant attitude.

Once he reached Egypt however, the story takes on a whole different tone. Joseph is purchased by a wealthy and influential person named Potiphar, an official of Pharaoh (the king of Egypt) and the captain of the palace guard. The story shows how God blessed Joseph in this new occupation, and how Potiphar recognized that blessing, as the Lord gave Joseph “success in everything he did.” Potiphar put him in charge of his entire household, and “with Joseph in charge, he did not concern himself with anything except the food he ate.” He apparently became a very wealthy man because of Joseph.

But Joseph had one problem: Potiphar’s wife. She kept making advances towards him! Joseph’s response was: “No one is greater in this house than I am. My master has withheld nothing from me except you, because you are his wife. How then could I do such a wicked thing and sin against God?” Joseph was trustworthy both to his earthly master and to his heavenly one. He did not give in to temptation. Unfortunately, when the wife saw she could not get her way with Joseph, she wrongly accused him of attempting to rape her, and Joseph was convicted and put in prison. Not fair! Joseph did all the right things, and look what he got in return!

But Joseph did not wallow in self pity while serving his time in prison. He again succeeded with God’s blessing: “the LORD was with him; he showed him kindness and granted him favor in the eyes of the prison warden. So the warden put Joseph in charge of all those held in the prison, and he was made responsible for all that was done there. The warden paid no attention to anything under Joseph’s care, because the LORD was with Joseph and gave him success in whatever he did.” (Genesis 39:21-23)

Then one day Joseph put his ability to understand dreams to good use, by interpreting the dreams of two different prisoners. One was the cupbearer of the king, and the other the chief baker, both of whom had been thrown into prison for reasons we do not know. Each had a dream that greatly disturbed them. Joseph listened to the dreams and gave the interpretation to each one, as God revealed the interpretation to him. The cupbearer was to be restored to his former position, but the baker was to be executed. It happened just as he stated, and he asked the cupbearer to remember him and help him get out of prison. But when the cupbearer got out of prison, he forgot all about Joseph! Unfair! Here was Joseph being good and faithful in everything he did, but he just couldn’t catch a break. A righteous and talented man like him was just wasting away his life in prison for crimes he never committed. Life seemed so unfair!!

But God had a master plan. He had not abandoned Joseph. Everything that had happened to Joseph was part of his perfect plan for his life, and also for the lives of many others. The key here, I believe, is that Joseph never seemed to despair and give up hope. He continued serving God, and was continually blessed, even while he served as a slave first, and then later as a prisoner.

Finally, one day his chance came. Pharaoh the king of Egypt had a dream that none of his magicians could interpret. The cupbearer all of a sudden remembered how Joseph had interpreted his dream and the dream of the baker who was executed some two years earlier. So he tells Pharaoh about it, and Pharaoh apparently investigates the matter and orders that Joseph be brought before him. Joseph is cleaned up and given a shave and brought before Pharaoh. Little did he know that all the “unfair” things that had happened to him through the past several years were a preparation for that one day before the king. He interprets the king’s dream which was a prophecy about seven years of abundant harvest followed by seven years of severe famine. Joseph recommends that they store up grain during the abundant years to have available during the years of famine. Everyone agrees with the interpretation of Joseph, and Joseph is promptly made second in command of the entire nation of Egypt, second only to the king. Talk about a rags to riches story – this one beats them all!

Later, during the midst of the years of famine, all the surrounding countries come to Egypt to buy grain, because they are the only ones who have any to sell. Joseph, of course, is in charge of the storehouses of food. So imagine his surprise one day when his brothers show up from his homeland to buy grain! They of course do not recognize him, and bow down before him to ask for food to feed their families back home. Joseph’s first dream from so many years earlier had come true! Eventually he makes himself known to his brothers, and arranges for the whole clan to be brought to Egypt, as there were many more years left of drought. The entire Hebrew nation was preserved during that time as a result of Joseph being in the right place at the right time.

As you can imagine, Joseph became very wise and very wealthy. He learned a lot about life and “fairness” and also about how God works everything out to accomplish his purposes. So when his brothers came to him after their father died, fearing that he might take out revenge on them, he replies with the verse we quoted above:

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)

He was not bitter towards his brothers at all! He could have said the same thing to Potiphar or Potiphar’s wife, and something similar to the cupbearer who forgot about him: “You messed up and did the wrong thing which was not fair and hurt me, but God took that circumstance and used it for good, and we are all blessed as a result.” Life is not fair, but God is. We may not be able to see the results of current injustices that we are suffering here in this life, but in time God’s justice and his plan will always prevail. He’s the Creator. He wrote the story. He knows the ending, because he wrote it!

It takes faith to believe that God has the kind of knowledge, foresight, and power to make all things work together for his good purpose in the future. The key, as it was in the life of Joseph, is to not stop believing and to not give up hope. When life deals us something unfair, we have two ways to respond. We can respond with anger and bitterness, complaining about our unfair circumstances. Or we can respond in faith, believing that God is in control and will use our unfair circumstances somehow for something positive. One response will reap sickness and despair, the other one health and confidence, the kind of confidence that the world, with its belief in evolution and no master designer controlling everything, cannot understand.

Joseph the dreamer never stopped dreaming, and never gave up hope. He suffered unfairly as a slave and a prisoner for many years. One day his dreams came true, far beyond his wildest imagination. Have you given up on your dreams? Have you believed the lie that the enemy tries to sow in our minds that life is not fair, and so we should just give up hope? Joseph was alone and separated from his family, suffering the unfair circumstances that caused him to be a slave and a prisoner for years, but God had not abandoned him. He simply had to keep faith and wait for his time to come. God never abandoned Joseph, and he has never abandoned you either!

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. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified. What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us? (Romans 8:28-31)

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