Good News for Dreamers

William C. Brownson Uncategorized

READ : Genesis 50:19-21

But Joseph said to them, “Fear not, for am I in the place of God? As for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. So do not fear; I will provide for you and your little ones.” Thus he reassured them and comforted them.

Genesis 50:19-21 rsv

We’ve been thinking about our God-given dreams and the difference they have made in our lives. We’ve thought about the threats they face and about what’s been happening to those dreams through the years, and to us in the process.

Now I come to insights about those dreams of ours and about the God who gives them. Here are some that have emerged for me, from the Scriptures about Joseph and Paul, and from life-experience.

GOD’S DREAMS: OUR ACTION

First: Dreams have an awesome, divine thrust behind them, but they always call for human action as well. Joseph sees a vision of his brothers doing obeisance to him, but he can’t sit back and simply wait for it to happen. Joseph has to deal with a stunning reversal, a cruel contradiction of the dream when he’s sold into slavery. At that point, he could have given in to despair, “Huh, some homage they’re paying me! So much for that dream!” He had to keep plugging if there was to be any hope for the dream to be kept alive. Keep fearing and trusting God. Keep doing what’s right. Keep working hard. Keep serving others. Keep hanging on through the delays and disappointments.

Think about the dreams he interpreted for Pharaoh. They told what was going to happen: seven years of plenty, seven of famine. The repetition of the dreams underlined how sure they were in God’s purpose. But Joseph saw that sure word from God as an urgent call to action. Appoint commissioners to collect twenty percent of the good harvests. Build huge granaries. Store the food in the towns. Then when the lean years come, open the granaries and sell the food.

In other words, out of the dream came a plan. Out of the vision, purposeful action. The dreams come from God. They’re faithful and sure. But you and I, alive and active, are a big part of them. So we keep on keeping on, even when nothing special seems to be happening, right? One comedian observes that “90 percent of life is just showing up.” Dreams come true when we live through life’s hard realities with courage and faithfulness.

CHANGED LIVES

Here’s another learning for me: Dream fulfillment often involves people being changed. Think about Joseph and his brothers when the dream was first given. As they were then, what chance was there that all this could happen? Joseph was a spoiled kid, a tattletale, walking around in his finery while others worked. Was he the kind of man then who could be the leader of his family? Could he have received with any kind of grace, balance and humility, the tribute of his older brothers? No way. He had to change, grow, deepen.

Joseph had to learn to take responsibility. He had to learn to be loyal to a trust. He had to confront temptation and overcome it in the fear of the Lord. He had to become sensitive to the feelings of others. He had to bear reproach, put up with slights, endure waiting. He had to see his brothers through new eyes, with new insight and compassion.

And what about the brothers? What had to go on in them before they could ever bow themselves before this kid brother? They were jealous, scornful, bitter, heartless. They plotted crime together, sold their brother, deceived their father. It took those trips to Egypt, those painful times of testing, to begin a change in them. They had to face their guilt and admit it, tell the truth to their father and face the one they had wronged. In the process, they began to be more honest, to show concern for their younger brother Benjamin. The fear of the Lord reawakened in them. Then, as the brothers were deeply changed, they could humble themselves before Joseph. They could take responsibility for the evil they had done.

So the word of the Lord kept on testing Joseph and his brothers until they were the kind of people in whom the dream could become reality. And I wonder, what has to go on in me first, in you first? What has to happen with us? Maybe that’s how we need to pray. “Change our lives, Lord, change our lives, so that all You want can happen through us. Deal with us in mercy, Lord, or in severity, whatever it takes. Get us in shape to fulfill the dream.”

EVIL OVERRULED

Here’s the third learning: God includes human wickedness and even satanic evil in His plans. What else can it mean, friends, when Joseph in Egypt can say to his brothers three times: “God sent me here.” Think about that: God sent me here. Now just how did Joseph get where he was? It took monstrous hatred and cruelty on the part of his brothers. It took the abominable slave trade. It took the vengefulness of Potiphar’s wife, the thoughtlessness of the king’s cupbearer and probably a lot of other cruelties and abuses we aren’t even told about. But somehow, God gathered all that up in His purposes so that Joseph could say, “It was God who sent me here.”

Now this man Joseph was anything but stupid. He was not a sentimentalist. He knew, better than anyone else, how badly and shamefully he had been treated. He gave a great deal of time, thought and effort to bringing his brothers face to face with their heartless crime and the sordid motives that lay behind it. He didn’t let them off the hook. He said it straight, “You meant evil against me.”

In other words, all the actors in this drama were fully responsible. They weren’t puppets, they weren’t compelled to act as they did. They had plenty of guilt to confess. But in all they did, freely and responsibly, they were yet taking part in a larger purpose they couldn’t begin to understand: God sent Joseph.

Every time we celebrate Holy Week and Easter we think about all the malignant evil that swept Jesus toward the cross. There was the envy of the priests, the blood-lust of the crowd, the cruelty of the soldiers. There was the self-serving of Pilate, the profane denial of Peter, the treachery of Judas and the flight of all the others. And behind all of that, there was the power of darkness: Satan entering Judas’s heart, engineering all this opposition.

And yet we see also, in the words of the prophet Isaiah, “It was the will of the Lord to bruise Him. The Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all” (see Isa. 53). God sent Jesus to the cross. Everyone of us was responsible. All of us were there when they crucified our Lord. We are the guilty ones who need to repent. Yet still more profoundly, it was God who delivered up His Son to die. God gathers up in the mystery of His purpose all the strands of human and of hellish evil. That doesn’t make sin any less sinful or sinners less punishable, but it does point powerfully to God’s glory.

GOD MEANS IT FOR GOOD

Now here’s the last part: here’s the best. Here’s the glad news for dreamers: God is the one who means it all for good. That’s what Joseph said to his broken, fearful brothers, wasn’t it? “You meant it to me for evil, but God meant it for good.” To me, that’s the most sublime word in all of the Old Testament.

Now we’re looking through a window, as it were, into God’s heart. How does He feel about His people? His wandering, grumbling, forgetful people? His deceitful, treacherous people, His hate-filled, sometimes murderous people? Listen: He means good for them. He wants the best for them. Not famine but food aplenty. Not bondage but freedom. Not sadness but singing. Not death but life. God wants to preserve many people alive. Celebrate that. He means it all, all the opposition and temptation, all the reproach and disappointment, all the sorrow and pain, for good, for our good. Alleluia!

But marvelous as that is, it’s only a glimpse of something grander. We see much more and much deeper in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. There is evil at its malignant worst. That is the vilest, most unjust deed ever done. The only blameless person who ever walked the earth, the only true lover of God and people, the only one worthy of heaven’s praise, was made to die the cruelest and most shameful of deaths. In all the horrors of history, that was the most terrible hour of all.

But, oh, what good, what unspeakable good God meant to come out of it! Out of the worst thing that ever happened, He brought the best: salvation. What did God mean in the agony of Golgotha? He meant forgiveness. He meant reconciliation. He meant newness of life. He meant for us joy unspeakable and full of glory. He meant hope. He meant heaven.

Why does that move us so much more than the story of Joseph ever could? Because this time God got involved. He was the Joseph rejected by His brothers. He was the tempted one, the falsely accused. And, unlike Joseph, He was the one who bore the judgment we deserve.

We know so much more now of God’s love for us, how far it will go, how much it’s willing to bear. We know now that God meant good to us so much that He didn’t spare His own Son but gave Him up for us all.

Now there’s a theology for dreamers, for sufferers, for sinners: God’s hand over man’s hand. Listen to Peter on the day of Pentecost. “By the deliberate will and plan of God, he [that is, Jesus] was given into your power and you killed him using heathen men to crucify him, but God raised him to life again” (see Acts 2:23-24). There it is: God taking the worst and transforming it into the best, taking all our evil on His own heart so that He could do us this deathless good.

Did you notice what that vision, that theology, that awareness of God’s grace did for Joseph? For one thing, it made him, as an ancient catechism puts it, “cheerful in adversity and thankful in prosperity.” More, it gave him a tender heart, a forgiving spirit and a habit of recognizing the Lord in everything. Joseph pledges unconditional kindness toward his brothers. No probations, no threat, no warning. He speaks gently to those he forgives.

And that’s what the theology of the cross did for Paul. It melted his cruelty, gave him a loving heart, a gracious spirit. We can hear him saying now, “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you” (Eph. 4:32). And then it fills him with admiration for God’s wisdom. “O the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God” (Rom. 11:33).

Dreamers don’t always grasp this theology at a very deep level when they’re starting out. The old adage is that “life is lived forward and understood backward.” It was at the end of a long, confusing, hard and painful road that Joseph could finally say, “You meant it to me for evil but God meant it for good.” That’s what someone has called “retrospective theology” – an understanding of God while looking back. Ultimately, Joseph saw that it was not his brothers’ hate but God’s grace that had brought him to Egypt. It was a divine act of rescue. It was as though he said to his brothers, “You wanted to disappoint the dream, but God wanted to fulfill it.” Yes, He wanted to make of Joseph a greater blessing to his family than would have been possible in any other way. But that’s all understood while looking back.

I don’t suppose Paul could have written Romans 8 in the first year of his conversion, when the dream of apostleship had just dawned on him. No, he had to taste persecution, danger, hunger and hardship before he could say with confidence, “Those things can’t defeat us. We are more than conquerors” (see vv. 35-37). He had to test the cables on this mighty bridge of God’s grace before he knew that it could hold him up through anything, that nothing, nothing could ever separate him from God’s love.

I haven’t had to face the trials and afflictions that a Joseph or a Paul did, but I have lived as a believer now even longer than they had when these things were happening to them. And some things get clearer for me all the time. Here’s one: the cross of Jesus Christ is the key to everything. That’s where we see sin in its true heinousness. That’s where we see God’s love in all its splendor and self-giving. That’s where we can see God’s hand over man’s hand most clearly, and that’s where we can know beyond all doubting that He means it for our good. When you grasp that, you can’t be finally defeated.

My Uncle Vic, who lived to be 99, had an invincible spirit. I remember once when he was tapping his cane against the wall and couldn’t hear the noise, he said, “I’m stone deaf!” But then, seconds later, he brightened: “But, thank God, I can still see!” When we took him to the doctor and had his ear attended to, he could hear again. He called it a miracle. But the real miracle was his spirit, his faith that in everything, God is at work for good with those who love Him. That’s the good news for you and me.