From our tiny corner the vastness looks incomprehensible and tragic. Cruel events pass before our eyes. But moments of good inhabit all things. Recovering life. Finding reprieve. Reversals and the end of suffering. Resilience and new strength come to us and we are awakened to beauty. Morning follows even the difficult night.
Some people can see the spark in everything.
Elohim chashavah letōvah, אֱלֹהִים חֲשָׁבָהּ לְטֹבָה, “God intended it for good.”
The brothers intended what they did to Joseph for evil (attem chashavtem alai ra’av, אַתֶּם חֲשַׁבְתֶּם עָלַי רָעָה) but the very same act was incorporated into God’s plan for the opposite result, letōvah לְטֹבָה, for good.
Always an effective teacher of Torah, Paul must have had this element of the Joseph story in mind as he made two statements in his letters. Both statements concern the seeming discrepancy between evil events and belief in a good God.
“For those who love God all things work together for good” (Rom 8:28). Paul wrote to communities of non-Jews who suffered for their choices, ostracized from the Greco-Roman culture and in a precarious place inside the Jewish sub-culture. The book of Romans refers several times to some suffering they were experiencing.
Paul’s statement in Romans 8:28 may indicate they had reflected already on the life of Joseph as a story of comfort.
In another place Paul makes a similar theological statement, “In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will” (Eph 1:11).
Joseph said what his brothers meant for evil, God used for his own good ends. Romans 8:28 says this is a pattern and that God turns around the evil circumstances of people into blessed outcomes. Ephesians 1:11 tells us that this is the overall pattern of all reality, God turning the wayward actions of humanity into a path leading straight for redemption. God does not need to remove the free will of his creatures to win the chess game. He outmaneuvers us. Thankfully.