In Genesis 50:20, Joseph responds to his brothers who had beat him, sold him into slavery, and told his father he was dead. His brothers are worried because Joseph is now a man of power and they fear he will take revenge on him. But Joseph responds to them, “You intended to harm me but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done.”
How do you respond to someone who intends to harm you? It might be a spouse lashing out in anger. You might have been a victim of crime. Everyday, it seems, we read about terrorists who are trying to harm as many people as possible. I once had a person who was harming me say, “You’ll thank me someday.” I haven’t yet. The person who is harming us may intend us harm – or they may think they are acting in our best interests without knowing the harm they are doing. Joseph’s brothers would have said he had brought it on himself.
The motivation of the person harming us doesn’t really matter. We know when something hurts us. But how do we turn it into something that God can use for good?
The first thing we have to do is realize that holding on to hurt, resentment, bitterness harms us much more than the original hurt. Joseph became the leading servant in Potiphar’s household until Potiphar’s wife lied and said Joseph had tried to rape her. Joseph became a model prisoner with the trust of everyone which led to his release and becoming second in Egypt only to Pharaoh. If Joseph had been bitter and resentful, plotting revenge on his brothers, he would never have done these other things. Joseph didn’t let anger and an unforgiving spirit stain his service to God.
The second thing we have to do to turn harm into something God can use for good is keep ourselves open to God’s will. We can rail against changed circumstances or we can ask God to guide us, to help us let go of anger, to use us even in this. Too often we allow ourselves to sink into anger or depression. But God can use us wherever we are. Having been harmed by someone, we are more empathetic to those who are hurting. Having suffered injustice, we work for justice for others.
Only by continuing to be open to God’s plan, to God’s will for our lives, to God’s intention, can we turn the harm planned by others into something that God can use for good. When our spirits are free of anger and bitterness, God can turn our hearts toward his purposes. When letting go of those feelings seems too hard, we have to turn to God and ask for his power to do the things we cannot do by ourselves. And eventually we learn to say, with Joseph, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good.”