In 1877, American abolitionist (and escaped slave) Frederick Douglass met his former master, Thomas Auld. Douglass had previously written strong condemnations of Auld’s cruel treatment of his slaves. But when they met near the end of Auld’s life, Douglass forgave him. They shed tears, were reconciled, and parted as friends, according to Douglass’s autobiography.
Douglass had become a Christian as a teenager, and clearly, he’d learned the power of God’s forgiveness in the face of suffering and injustice. As we see in today’s reading, Joseph, too, had learned to forgive despite all he’d unjustly suffered (vv. 19–21). In fact, we can say he’d learned to forgive because of all he’d unjustly suffered. That did not make what his brothers and the Potiphar couple had done any less wrong, but it helped Joseph to know that God had been in sovereign control with a greater purpose the entire time.
We live in a fallen world that’s full of sin and suffering, but these things are not outside God’s rule. He’s never been taken by surprise and never has to resort to a plan B. This should strengthen our faith and give us hope. At the same time, it should not make us complacent or fatalistic. Sin, suffering, and injustice should deeply grieve us. We should practice and stand for biblical justice whenever there’s an opportunity. Even more, we can rejoice when suffering injustice for the sake of Christ—as Paul and Silas did, singing hymns in their Philippian prison cell (Acts 16:25).
What can we learn from Joseph? In the words of the psalmist: “It was good for me to be afflicted so that I might learn your decrees” (Ps. 119:71). Or in Paul’s terms: “In all things God works for the good of those who love him” (Rom. 8:28).
>> If you struggle with questions about suffering or injustice, we recommend an excellent book by two Moody professors: Between Pain and Grace: A Biblical Theology of Suffering, by Gerald Peterman and Andrew Schmutzer.
In the midst of suffering, it can be difficult to draw comfort from Your promises. Sustain our trust in You. “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life” (John 6:68).