"You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives."
A few weeks ago, we hung a bag of clothespins on an outside wall for drying laundry in warm weather. Three days ago, a pair of Carolina wrens took a look at that bag and decided they had a different use for it, and claimed it as their spring home. Now it’s bursting with leaves and moss and I’m actually pretty happy about it. Sometimes things that look like one thing, become another.
The above scripture passage is a profound statement. Joseph is speaking at the end of a life of hardship that came because his brothers were overcome with jealousy. They nearly murdered him and then sold him as a slave and sent him away forever (Now, there’s a very real chance that with the upcoming weeks of having sons and being housebound, I will go back to this passage and write about violence between brothers, but that’s not for today!). Eventually after years of being unjustly imprisoned, Joseph rises to a prominent leadership role and saves many people in Egypt during a horrible famine.
A statement like the one Joseph made can feel a little complicated. On one hand, I love that something so beautiful came out of such a horrible situation. But on the other hand, what does it mean that God “intended” it?? Did God intentionally have Joseph suffer years of alienation and imprisonment for doing nothing wrong? That doesn’t seem like God’s character as revealed in Jesus.
But a quick dive into that phrase reveals a new layer. The Hebrew word Joseph uses here is khasav, and it means more than simply planning for something to happen. Khasav, sometimes translated as “intended,” is often also translated as to imagine, to devise, or invent. It’s a word about creating something new. Something that is surprising and different.
While Joseph’s brother’s were trying to destroy Joseph and imagining ways to do it, God was doing something imaginative as well… something nobody could see coming. God was inventing. God was repurposing the pain and the disruption that Joseph would endure at the hands of his brothers, and opening a door for redemption…. because in the middle of a horrible situation, breathtaking beauty is always possible when God is at work.
In John 8 there’s a woman on the ground in John 8 and she's about to be put to shame and killed for breaking the law. But Jesus is there, and he’s inventing. He’s imagining. Because he knows that the worst the world can hurl at people can also illuminate the best of God’s character. So he turns a horrific event on its head and helps the world see love and grace when they were about to witness death.
Now, this virus might not have a “personality", but it certainly intends to harm us. The pain and loss of health and life intend to harm us. The physical disconnection intends to harm us. The collapse of financial support for so many intends to harm us. And the fear of the unknown intends to harm us.
But God invents. God imagines. God repurposes.
This changes the way we look at what’s ahead. God is not somehow behind this evil, as if the virus is a cosmic judgment on whomever Christians would like to scapegoat in order to make themselves feel righteous (don’t listen to the televangelists, friends!). Nor is God far removed like an absentee father, feeling bad about the situation but not really doing anything to change it.
Rather, God enters the brokenness with a lens of hopeful imagination, like Jesus walking into the tomb of Lazarus. Jesus is breathing his inventive spirit into his Church, opening their eyes to see soil for seeds to grow where others see only concrete ground.
I know we’re early into this coronavirus journey, but it’s already time for us to open our eyes to the holy khasav that is possible with Jesus. Goodness, this week we started an open group for daily noon prayer on Zoom to encourage each other. Why did it take coronavirus for this to start???
Christians have always made homes in surprising places of fear and sorrow and frustration, because darkness needs light and we are light-givers. Throughout history, Christians have creatively lived out God’s imagination. When others despair, Christians keep hoping. When others hoard, we share. When others are afraid, we sit with them in the dark. When others are sick or overlooked, we care for them and call them by name. And when people wonder what the truly good life consists of… we help them meet Jesus. Pain opens up a vacuum that love can fill. Friends, there is incredible good that is possible during these upcoming months.
The wrens repurposed that clothespin bag out back because they saw a place that they could make a home in. We need to be like the wrens. We need to see this space and see what it can be. God’s kingdom is a place where all are loved and valued, where no one is alone or afraid, and where the hurting are cared for. If that’s the case, just think of how we can live out our calling as citizens of that kingdom today.
Let's invite God to repurpose this instead of sinking into despair or boredom. I’ve been tempted to already. I’m tempted to let the sorrow and frustration and newness of this whole thing wash over me and take me under. Our emotions are absolutely natural, and we need to allow for the legitimate mourning that is currently going on. But then we need to move through it and look around, because Jesus is inventing and imagining right now. That’s our identity too.
Jesus, help me notice one place in need of your light, and join You in revealing it today.