When a child dies, a well-intentioned friend sometimes offers comfort to the grieving parents with, “God needed your child in heaven.” A natural disaster, or strange misfortune is greeted with, “There must have been a reason.”
The Bible story of Joseph, the favored child, is often cited as the basis of this kind of thinking. Joseph’s older brothers, in their anger and jealousy, sold him to merchants travelling to Egypt. They told their father that Joseph had been killed by a wild beast. Years later, his brothers come to Egypt as refugees from famine. They meet Joseph as the prime minister, who now has the power to save his family from starvation. Joseph explains, “It was not you who sent me here (to Egypt), but God.” (Genesis 45:8).
THIS MAY COMFORT SOME PEOPLE, BUT NOT ME. The loving God I have encountered in my life and in the Bible stories of Jesus, tells me a different story. Our God-given gift of free will means we can make good choices to love and care for each other and we can use our free will in anger and jealousy, as Joseph’s brothers did. Our loving God is never defeated by our choices. God has the power to bring goodness out of the worst we can do, BUT God does NOT need us to do bad things, or to experience misery to accomplish goodness.
I believe Joseph had the position and therefore the power to rescue his brothers, because our loving God worked with Joseph to use his intelligence, his location and his faith to prepare him to forgive and help his family. God brought new life, amazing new life out of Joseph’s brothers’ evil choices, just as God brought the resurrection out of our choice to crucify Jesus.
Some people would say this is just a matter of semantics, playing with words. I don’t agree. I believe that God’s love can take the worst that we can do, and the worst that can happen, and create goodness. But God doesn’t need us to make evil choices or experience painful things in order to create that goodness.
With this mind-set, we are not puppets in the hands of a capricious, often vengeful God, who requires war and death, evil and violence to accomplish goodness. No! No! No! With this mindset, we have freedom to make choices, good choices of love and care, poor choices, and sometimes even choices for evil. God can draw from within the results of our choices, even at our worst, the means to create goodness.
For me, this applies to our resurrection story. My theology of Jesus tells me that he loved us so much that he wouldn’t stop loving us even when we were at our worst. God used that endless, generous love to bring the lesson of forgiveness and resurrection, NEW LIFE, not just for Jesus but for all of us.
When we trust in a loving God, when we open our hearts to that love, we will eventually see and experience that goodness. In fact, God invites us to participate in the creation of that goodness.
For this understanding of God, I give God thanks.
“Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”