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Jan. 18, 2017:  The Perfect Storm

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Did you ever see the movie The Perfect Storm starring George Clooney and Mark Wahlberg that was released in 2000? I once read a synopsis of the movie that said, “A confluence of weather conditions combines to form an unusually intense storm that catches some commercial fishermen unaware and puts them in mortal danger.” Honestly, that is something of an understatement. I don’t want to spoil the ending if you have not yet seen the movie (though perhaps I am safe to presume that if you really wanted to see it you would have done so by now) but after 130 minutes…they all die! More than two hours of watching pain and disaster and then everybody dies! Even George Clooney dies, and a leading man like George Clooney is not supposed to die!

The Biblical account of the life of Joseph is also a confluence of unusual storm patterns. Born to a highly dysfunctional family, he was hated by his brothers, so much so that they attempted to take his life and then sold him into slavery. He was taken to a foreign land, wrongly accused of attempted rape and left to rot in an Egyptian dungeon. But almost impossibly, there is a gloriously happy ending.

I think we prefer happy endings, don’t we? At least, we certainly like them for ourselves. What are the essential plot requirements for a Godly “happy ending”? Let me draw out just two from Joseph’s story:

1. To be totally forgiven: Toward the very end of the account of Joseph’s story in Genesis, his father, Jacob, dies. Joseph’s brothers panic. They imagine that Jacob has perhaps been some sort of restraining influence in Joseph’s life. Was Jacob the reason that Joseph had not taken revenge on them? They begin to get agitated around their past sins. Joseph has already forgiven them but the brothers have clearly not been able to forget their past so they send Joseph a message telling him that their late father had asked Joseph to forgive them! Joseph weeps when he hears this—not because they were lying, but because they clearly had not completely believed and received his forgiveness. His response, without hesitation, was to repeat his words of forgiveness. Joseph’s words, recorded in Genesis 50, provide, perhaps, the finest expression of forgiveness we find anywhere outside of the words of Jesus himself: “’Do not be afraid, for am I in God’s place? And as for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive. So therefore do not be afraid: I will provide for you and for your little ones.’ So he comforted them and spoke kindly to them.” (Genesis 50:19-21). Joseph was led by grace, he spoke by grace, he forgave by grace and He forgot by grace.

There are two things to think about in this part of God’s happy ending. First, the Father does not hold our sins against us. Joseph’s love for his brothers is very Christ-like and it is a foreshadow of the grace that is available to all of us upon the Cross. His is a forgiveness that is complete, total—a forgiveness that holds nothing back. This is counterintuitive for us. And so it was for the brothers who struggled to grasp the measure of Joseph’s total forgiveness.

Second, we are not to hold another’s guilt over him or her. Joseph had the power of guilt over his brothers but he declined to use it against them. We need to guard our hearts when we have the power of guilt over someone else. Our model is Jesus who forgives us totally and chooses not to remember. His grace is beautifully modeled for us by Joseph. Joseph does not deny what has happened, but he chooses not to hold their sin against them—not to cling to it or revel in it. Instead, pressing in to the mercy of God, he chooses to forget.

2. To be right with God: It is clear that Joseph was at peace with God. Despite every hard knock that had come his way, Joseph was free from of bitterness, even in old age. The absence of Joseph’s bitterness is founded upon his trust and love for God. Let me repeat what Joseph says to his brothers: “And as for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive.” Joseph was clear: God sovereignly works all things for His glory and our good.

None of life is insignificant or wasted when lived under the purposeful hand of our loving Father. The Apostle Paul assures us, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28). How we receive that promise is often about timing. If you had quoted that verse to me in the middle of various storms in my life, I would not have been able to hear it. So often it is only as the storm abates that we can look back and say, “My goodness, if that storm had not corrected our course, we would have hit those rocks for sure.” So if you feel that you are in something of a perfect storm right now, the Lord is not expecting you to make sense of it all and thank Him for the pain. Perhaps instead you might recall how the Lord pulled you through a previous storm and how you came through as a better sailor.

What about a happy ending for us? Well, that chapter has, in fact, been already written. “And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.'” (Revelation 21: 3-4). This is the Lord’s ultimate happy ending; this is the great climax to all our stories.

So we may think "Is that it? We have to wait until we die?" Without doubt there is a glorious final installment in this drama in which forgiveness, reconciliation and peace with God and each other have their fulfillment. But because of the Cross, because of Jesus’ death and resurrection, those themes break through all of our lives, all of the time. Yes, the book of Revelation tells us that finally we will meet with Jesus at that great banqueting table. 

But it also says that we shall see Him somewhere else. “‘Look, he is coming with the clouds’ and ‘every eye will see him…’” (Revelation 1:7) Why clouds? Because He is faithful, He is present, His love endures and His love is faithful—even on the stormy days. Even when it is hidden by the clouds, He is sovereignly at work in our lives. The great themes of forgiveness, reconciliation and peace with God and man are even now being worked out in the extravagance of His love. 

“…all things are possible with God.” (Mark 10:27)