Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Is the Glass Half-Full or Half-Empty?

Have you ever met someone who keeps living and re-living all the terrible things that happened in his or her past? People like these seem almost handicapped by their past. Then you know people who have survived horrific events, and yet, have been able to let go of the hurt and move on.  What do you think makes the difference?

Joseph is a good example of that second group.  When you read his life story, you find he has a lot that he could hang on to and be pretty bitter about.  His early life was pretty easy, really, except that his brothers all hated him.  Admittedly he didn’t mend any fences by telling them about his dreams of them all worshipping him, but I always thought of him as a basically sweet natured person. But one of the studies I listened to this week portrayed him as more of a spoiled brat who kind of taunted his brothers with these dreams.   And of course, dad didn’t help at all when he gave Joseph his new coat.  I kind of like my sweet little boy better than the spoiled brat, but I’m not sure that in the long run it really makes any difference which Joseph we start with.  What matters is the Joseph we end up with.

 Joseph certainly had the opportunity to build up some pretty good anger and bitterness toward his brothers, Potiphar and his wife, … even God.  But he didn’t.  Why not?

His brothers, themselves, seem to be bitter, angry men and they really had not experienced anything so difficult as Joseph did.  What did they have to be bitter about?  I don’t know if I could prove this anywhere, but it doesn’t seem like Joseph’s brothers had any real relationship with God.  Not like you’d expect from children of Jacob, anyway.  Did Jacob not spend the time with them that he did with Joseph?  Whatever happened in their childhoods, the outcome was very, very different.

Imagining that all other things were equal, what made the difference between Joseph and his brothers?  Was it simply that Joseph’s temperament was different and so he approached life differently? (The old is the glass half empty or half full argument) Could genetics have had something to do with the outcome?  Was the introduction of Rachel’s DNA enough to make Joseph and Benjamin that different from the others?  Was it that God had already decided how things needed to end up to save the Hebrews and so He just made sure that it all worked out that way?  I have to say that sometimes it looks that way, because my human mind can’t imagine any other way for things to have worked out.  One thing the Bible tells us, more than once, is that God was with Joseph.  OK, so does that mean that He wasn’t with the brothers?  Did Joseph have any choice about whether God was with him or not?

And that’s where I think the difference comes!  When things got tough for Joseph’s brothers, what was their response?  Pretty often it looks like their motto was, “Don’t get mad, get even.”  And God doesn’t come into that.  What was Joseph’s response to being sold into slavery?

In Patriarchs and Prophets, Ellen White says that his first response was despair.  But the second thing he did was to think about the lessons his father had taught him. 
“Joseph believed that the God of his fathers would be his God. He then and there gave himself fully to the Lord, and he prayed that the Keeper of Israel would be with him in the land of his exile.
His soul thrilled with the high resolve to prove himself true to God--under all circumstances to act as became a subject of the King of heaven. He would serve the Lord with undivided heart; he would meet the trials of his lot with fortitude and perform every duty with fidelity. One day's experience had been the turning point in Joseph's life. Its terrible calamity had transformed him from a petted child to a man, thoughtful, courageous, and self-possessed.” p.214
WOW!  There it is!  Joseph gave himself to the Lord and asked Him to be with him.  Ellen White says that “one day’s experience” had turned Joseph around…but it was that one moment’s decision that laid the foundation for the change.  Because, think about it, there was a distinct possibility that Joseph would look at what had just happened to him and decide that God wasn’t doing His job and he wasn’t going to trust God ever again.  If that had happened, we wouldn’t read about Joseph probably.  We’d read about whoever it was that did turn to God.

So, what happens when things don’t go the way WE expect?  Do we decide that believing in and trusting God isn’t worth the effort and start building grudges to hang onto?  Or do we give ourselves “fully to the Lord” and ask Him to keep us during the hard times.  Do we start blaming other people for the bad things that happen to us?  Or do we remember that old saying, “You can’t hate a person you’re praying for.”? 

We all “Dare to be a Daniel”, but do we strive to be like Joseph?         

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