So for the past two weeks the UK has been in a state of National Lockdown. This is lockdown III and I find it hard to get my head around the notion that a year into the COVID19 Pandemic, we are now hitting what appears to be the virus’ most dangerous and deadly phase. At this time the word that I have been thinking about is resilience and in this blog I am going to (1) explore what it is, (2) think about why Joseph is such a great example and then (3) hopefully demonstrate why in these challenging times it is exactly what we need!
1. What is resilience?
Resilience is not a word I use very often, but nevertheless I think it is a particularly pertinent word. Here is how the dictionary defines it:
“the ability of a substance to return to its usual shape after being bent, stretched, or pressed” OR “the ability to be happy, successful, etc. again after something difficult or bad has happened”The Cambridge Dictionary (link)
The first definition refers to the physical world and the ability of a substance to bounce back into shape. We might also use this kind of idea to think of the economy – its resilience refers to its ability to bounce back after a shock (e.g. recession or crash). This idea fits less well however with the second definition which is more about how we personally respond to something that impacts us. It is unlikely that the resilient person will simply bounce back to where we were. Instead the resilient person finds a sense of perspective that allows them to keep on going. The following quote is I think quite a helpful definition of resilience from a Christian perspective:
“Resilience is having strength to fulfil the call God has given us, even when it will be painful and difficult. Resilience is staying fixed on a higher purpose, motivated by love of God, our neighbour, and the world, and supported by friends. While others let us down, we are carried by the one who called us.”K Carr quoted in Resilience in Life & Faith, Tony Horsfall & Debbie Hawker, pg. 8 BRF 2019
2. Resilience in the life of Joseph
Joseph was no stranger to living under national lockdown conditions! Indeed it was he that imposed them as a means of ensuring that they first stored up enough food to provide for the years of famine and then second distributed that food to those that needed it. The people sold him their wealth, their possessions, their livestock and even their very selves. When I think of Joseph and resilience I tend to think however of his earlier years.
In my previous post, we explored in some detail the particularly difficult period of Joseph’s life (aged 17-30), when he faced repeated challenges. During this thirteen year period, he experienced a whole raft of disappointments, false accusations, injustices and let downs…all of which must have felt completely out of his control. And yet throughout that whole period Joseph had sufficient strength in God to keep on trusting and walking in obedience to Him. He didn’t just hang onto the notion that things would go back to how they were but got on board with the reality that he was facing and kept on going.
We know that Joseph had a great spiritual heritage as a son of Jacob, Isaac and Abraham. That said, we see little direct reference to God in the story of Joseph until he has been sold into slavery. Here are some insights that we do get into the life of Joseph:
God was with Him: We are told four times that the LORD was with him (39:2, 3, 21 & 22) and gave him success in everything he did (39:3 & 22). This is a very important phrase in the life of Joseph but it doesn’t give us a clear picture into Joseph’s intentionality on this. Was God with Joseph because Joseph loved and followed Him…I think that is likely but the text doesn’t say this directly at this point.
Responding with Faith: We do however see Joseph’s faith in God more clearly, when Potiphar’s wife is seeking to lure him to bed with her. He says to her “How then could I do such a wicked thing and sin against God?” (39:9). Then in the following chapter when the Baker and the Cupbearer have dreams which they could not understand, Joseph says “Do not interpretations belong to God?” (40:8). There is a similar confidence in God when Pharaoh also has disturbing dreams, and Joseph boldly tells him that “I cannot do it…but God will give Pharaoh the answer he desires.” (41:16).
In an ideal world Joseph would have written some Psalms or provided us with a deeper snapshot of his devotional life. But in the absence of such material, we must infer from what we are told. This leads me to conclude that Joseph is drawing on the strength He has in and from God.
Seeing God’s Perspective: Perhaps the clearest indication of Joseph’s trust in God is when he looks back over all he has been through. First he names his two children Manasseh & Ephraim:
51 Joseph named his firstborn Manasseh and said, ‘It is because God has made me forget all my trouble and all my father’s household.’ 52 The second son he named Ephraim and said, ‘It is because God has made me fruitful in the land of my suffering.’Genesis 41:51-52
Joseph shows resilience because God enables him to forget his troubles and instead celebrate his newfound fruitfulness. Later when Joseph reveals himself to his brothers he is able to tell them with confidence “do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you” (45:5). This is restated, perhaps even more clearly after the death of Jacob when Joseph says “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives” (50:20).
Despite all that had happened Joseph is able to seek and find reconciliation with his brothers because God enabled Him to see how He had been working out His plan for good. It cannot have felt like it at the time but it takes a huge amount of resilience to move forward like this in faith. I am sure that at times he wished he could wind back the clock, but that is not the thrust of what we see from his life. No Joseph is able to wrestle with each new normal that comes his way, and he does so while trusting the God who had been with him from the beginning. Joseph acknowledges the reality he is in, and with God by his side he moves forward in faith and hope.
3. Why we need resilience
As I think about 2021, I do so with a huge degree of hope that better days really do lie ahead of us. Here in the UK we have already vaccinated around 4million people and the UK Government claims we are vaccinating 140 people per minute. I don’t know how you feel about the hype, but this could be the real game changer in the fight against Coronavirus. But it might not be. Who is say that some new strain will not prolong this pandemic even further? Even it is the game changer, there will still be plenty of difficult days to come for all of us as we face all that life brings our way.
We need to be resilient and trust in the God whose Grace is Enough for whatever comes our way. Our hope is not in vaccines or health care systems, but in the God who holds all of our lives in His Hands. We might not face exactly the kind of things that Joseph did, but we too need to foster the kind of faith that keeps on going even when the going gets tough. Genuine faith is a faith that lasts (Hebrews 3:14) the test of time. Pandemics do not last forever and in the same way many of the other things we struggle with will not last forever either. How can I know that? Because the forever home for all us who love and follow Jesus, is to be with Him in the New Creation where there will be no more pain or suffering.
Both Jacob and Joseph trusted in God and the promises he had given them. Before each of them died they requested that their bones be carried back to the particular land that God had promised them. This land was incredibly important because it was a key strand of the promises that God had made to Abraham: to be God’s people, in God’s place experiencing His blessing. The people of Israel spent a further 400 years in Egypt but finally God took them home. One day God will also take us home to be with Him forever. In the meantime let’s continue to trust God amidst whatever life brings our way.
See more in the Life of Joseph Series