Wednesday, May 18, 2011

A Promise Spelled H-O-P-E

A couple of months ago I was roused from a deep sleep by a clear voice declaring, “They’ve bought the lie that their lives are about them.” I’m not sure if a bizarre dream precipitated this declaration, and I don’t know who “they” were, but I know I was one of them. That voice was talking to me.

As the words reverberated in my heart, memories from the past year came crashing into the quiet of my peaceful room. I saw myself packing up and moving from my community of seven years, and then trying to keep my head above water in a new job while bogged down by something that looked suspiciously like mono; I saw a young man slip a radiant diamond on my left hand, and the flurry of activities that gained momentum as a wedding drew nearer; I saw myself in bed in a dark, cluttered apartment while I battled virus after virus in the midst of wedding planning and learning the ropes at work; I saw piles of boxes stashed in every corner of my dark apartment as my mom and fiancé helped me move, once again, to an uncluttered place of my own; I saw my clinical nutritionist telling me my adrenal glands were fried and so was my immune system; I saw rain hit my windshield as I drove home late one night, my left hand feeling naked without the diamond that once graced it; and I saw myself listening to my doctor announce two days later that I had mono and wouldn’t be feeling better anytime soon, and should give myself permission to just rest.

All of these, my memories, from my life, stuffed in the deepest crevices of my heart, and yet somehow, this clear voice speaking into the silence, telling me they’re not really about me.

And then I thought of Joseph, the colorful-coat wearing dreamer from the biblical book of Genesis, who had more sorrowful memories by the age of thirty than most people have after a lifetime. Lonely, blood-stained memories that must have ripped through his soul when he laid down to sleep, woven in and out of his nighttime dreams, and punctuated his days with unbearable grief. Memories of scornful, mocking brothers; of a colorful, bloodied coat; of the long hot caravan ride that left traitorous loved ones looking like ants on the horizon; of the aging, beloved father left to grieve the loss of a favored son; of the silver coins jingling in his slave trader's pocket, given in exchange for his services; of false rape accusations hanging thick in the air; of the disappointment flickering in a boss's eyes after years of earning his trust; of the long days and dark nights in a jail cell surrounded by thieves and murderers; and of the two years waiting in the dark, forgotten by the man who promised he'd remember.

I recently read a book that lauded Joseph's ability to forgive his brothers when they stood before him for the first time in thirteen years, after they caused him unimaginable suffering. I once heard a teacher point to Joseph as our model for trusting God even in the valley of the shadow of death. Awhile back I listened to a professor describe the way God used Joseph to sustain the nation of Egypt, as well as his Jewish family during a brutal famine. But Joseph's story isn't just about Joseph, and it's not just about the individuals Joseph's life touched, or the people God used him to save.

When Joseph was reunited with his brothers in Pharaoh's palace, he begged them, "Now do not be grieved or angry with yourselves, because you sold me here, for God sent me before you to preserve life...God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant in the earth, and to keep you alive by a great deliverance."

His words echoed the words God spoke to his aging, childless great great grandpa Abraham generations earlier: 

"I will make you into a great nation.
I will bless you.
I will make your name great.
You will be a blessing to others.
I will bless those who bless you.
I will put a curse on anyone who calls down a curse on you.
All nations on earth
will be blessed because of you."

This ancient promise brought life to Abraham. God blessed him with a son named Isaac, who had a son named Jacob, who had twelve sons, one of whom was named Joseph. And somehow, God planned on using these sons to bless all the nations on the earth. But he had to sustain them and make them into a great nation first.

Joseph was the seed planted in the womb of one of the most powerful nations in the world, where his small clan grew in safety for hundreds of years. Even when enslaved by Egypt, Abraham's great great great great granddaughters birthed many hearty sons, and Pharaoh grew afraid of this great nation.

Joseph was the linchpin whose life enabled his growing family, when freed from slavery in Egypt, to dispense God's justice on the Canaanites and occupy the land of this barbaric, blood-spilling nation.

Joseph's family-turned-nation was great enough, because of their years in Egypt, to settle into Canaan and prosper. And even when the Israelites assumed the horrific practices of their pagan neighbors, and were then attacked by enemies and oppressed by the powerful, a small remnant of God's people clung to the promise he'd made to Father Abraham. A promise God clarified later when he assured his suffering people he'd send a Messiah from the tribe of Joseph's older brother, Judah; a Savior who would bless all the nations of the world.

Joseph's story is 11 of 880 pages in my Bible. Eleven pages in a story that's not finished yet: the story of the Messiah, the Savior born into Abraham's family, who still speaks words of hope to all the nations of the world, declaring: "I have stripped sin of its power, and sorrow no longer has the last word. I will dignify the prostitutes, homeless, and handicapped; I will remove the shame of the adulterer and the guilt of the pious. I will make your blind eyes see stars hanging so bright and low in the sky you'll think you can grab them, and make your deaf ears hear the thunderous roar of rain on the roof; I will heal your lame legs so you can run so hard your heart wants to burst from the thrill of it; I will give rest to the weary. I will make ugly things beautiful and old things new; I will turn tongue-tied hillbillies into international preachers and arrogant businessmen into humble missionaries; I will put bread in the pantries of the poor and use my children to do it; I will be a lover to the lonely widow and a father to the abandoned orphan; I will rid your heart of its hardness and rub ointment into its throbbing cracks when it's broken; I will never leave you or forsake you. I will breathe life into the coffin of your selfishness and free you from the prison of your anxiety; I will be faithful to the divorcee and speak tenderly to the never-been-married; I will restore the relationships you've broken, and I will fight for the weak and oppressed; I will give you victory over death. And if you trust me enough to give your life to me, I will use you to bless the nations. I will graft your vaporous story into my eternal story, and I will use your sorrow-turned-to-joy to show the world that my story is Hope. The hope of glory. The certainty of a happy ending."

© by scj


  1. Our happy ending is coming indeed. And someday, when your first book is published, I want one of the first copies. You speak from the heart, with wisdom and beauty. Love you, beautiful lady.

  2. Hi Sarah,
    I'm so sorry you've been having such a rough semester! You've been in my thoughts and prayers. I hope this summer can be restful for you.

  3. Thank you so much, Aunt Peg. Love you too. Would love to see you and the family one day soon! Hope you are all well.

  4. Murray—it's good to hear from you. Thank you so much for your prayers. It is looking to be a very restful summer. :) Hope yours is too! How is your book coming along?