Genesis tells the well-known story of Joseph, a man who had some unfair stuff happen to him. The favorite child of his father, his jealous brothers toss him down a well and leave him to die — and then go back and get him and sell him into slavery.
As a slave, he eventually has a pretty good life, until his master’s wife tries to seduce him. When he refuses, she accuses him of rape and Joseph is thrown into prison and forgotten. It’s a very long story that ends with Joseph finding favor with the king, who appoints him as governor over Egypt.
During a famine, Joseph’s brothers go to Egypt to ask for food and come face to face with the brother they thought was long gone and probably dead. They don’t recognize him, but Joseph recognizes them, and when he reveals his identity they are understandably terrified. That’s when Joseph shows them mercy and famously tells them, “You meant evil against me, but God meant it for good” (Genesis 50:20).
I think a lot about those two words: “But God.”
Sometimes terrible things happen in life, things you didn’t cause and can’t control, and it’s difficult to find a reason for the trauma and the pain and sorrow. How could your brothers throw you down a well and then sell you as a slave? How could you suffer years of prison, falsely accused, and then be able to say, “But God meant it for good?”
I’ve heard it said that the gospel can be boiled down to those two words: “But God.” The apostle Peter told his fellow Jews: “You killed (Jesus) the author of life, but God raised him from the dead. We are witnesses of this” (Acts 3:15).
Paul told the church in Rome: “But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8), and told the church at Ephesus: “But God, being rich in mercy...made us alive together with Christ” (Ephesians 2:4).
“But God” takes a desperate, impossible situation and flips it. “But God” brings life to something that’s dead. Andrée Seu Peterson, a columnist with World magazine, says “But God” trumps everything. "Paint me the worst scenario you can think of. Make it 10-pages long if you want to,” she writes, “but when you have done your best work, say aloud, ‘But God.’
“‘But God’ is enough to nullify it all,” Peterson writes.
Even though it’s October, think about the Easter story, beginning with the Crucifixion of Jesus, the hope of Israel nailed to a cross. He’s buried, his friends mourn. They don’t know how or even if God will or can ever revive their hope, ever comfort them — they saw their hope die a brutal, ugly, unfair death.
And God let that happen.
But then on Sunday….
I heard someone say recently that the Resurrection is the biggest “But God” in all of history and that God continues to step into our hopeless situations and resurrect them — and it’s always better, always a surprise and always brings great joy.
To me, it’s also a resurrection miracle to be able to look back on suffering and say, “But God meant it for good” — not just say it, but mean it and actually be grateful for it.
“But God” changes everything.
— Nancy Kennedy is the author of “Move Over, Victoria — I Know the Real Secret,” “Girl on a Swing” and “Lipstick Grace.” She can be reached at 352-564-2927 or via email at email@example.com.