Handling the Bad

By Marjorie Foerster Eddington


How do we handle bad stuff that happens to us?


Well, we have some choices:

  • We can either get upset, resentful, bitter, depressed; or
  • We can look for the good, find something to be grateful for (even if it's miniscule), forgive, claim the blessing.

The first set of choices rivets us in the problem. The second set of responses actually enables us to move forward and have a life full of blessings.

Let's look at Joseph, whose story is in Genesis.
Joseph's brothers threw him into a pit, sold him into slavery, and allowed their father to think Joseph was killed by a wild beast. They would have killed him had it not been for his oldest brother, Reuben (Gen 37:18-35).

How does Joseph handle such atrocious treatment?
Though we're not told anything, he probably wasn't jumping up and down for joy. He probably was very hurt and angry, and justifiably so. But if he had these feelings, he didn't stay in the pit of despair, resentment, or anger. He must have moved through them quickly.

Otherwise, Joseph would not have been such a capable servant to Potiphar, Pharaoh's captain of the guard, who recognized "that the Lord was with him [Joseph], and that the Lord caused all that he did to prosper in his hands" (39:3). As a result, Potiphar put Joseph in charge of his household. Joseph must have been grateful for having a slave master who recognized the good in him.

Even when Joseph got thrown into prison because Potiphar's wife lied to her husband, saying that Joseph insulted her (rather than explaining truthfully that she tried to seduce Joseph), Joseph maintained his calm. There are no words of complaint. There are only records of the Lord being with Joseph and making everything he did to "prosper." In fact, the chief jailor put Joseph in charge of the other prisoners (39:6-23).

There's also no mention of Joseph being depressed about his bad fortune. There's no record that he was upset at the wife or at Potiphar. Rather, Joseph was seeing good in a totally unfair situation and doing good.

Joseph was helping out fellow prisoners, interpreting their dreams (40). In order to interpret dreams, Joseph had to be mentally clear. He had to have a close connection with God. In fact, Joseph declared, "Do not interpretations belong to God?" (40:8).

Anger, resentment, depression cloud our ability to reason. They are not qualities of thought that allow us to make good judgments or decisions. Joseph must have realized that the only way for him to move forward, to be successful, to live his life was to let go of bitterness and defeat and stay close to God, listen to God's word, and trust in God's protection.

As a result of interpreting Pharaoh's dream, Joseph became second-in-command to Pharaoh. Pharaoh put him in charge of gathering, storing, administering all the grain – a huge responsibility and honor. What a blessing God gave to Joseph – from the pit to the prison to the palace.

Along the way, Joseph must also have learned to forgive. When his brothers finally saw him again after 21 or 22 years, Joseph had already forgiven them. Joseph told them through tears, "And now do not be distressed, or angry with yourselves, because you sold me here; for God sent me before you to preserve life" (45:5). Wow! Joseph did not blame them for their barbaric treatment of him. Rather, he found the blessing and claimed it: God used me to help preserve my family.

Despite everything, Joseph knew that God was always with him, blessing him, even if the blessings were hard to recognize at different times in his experience. Rather than wallow in self-pity, Joseph rejoiced in God's goodness. Such a God-centered outlook on life enabled Joseph to handle whatever was thrown at him or wherever he was thrown.

So how do we handle tough, unfair, or horrible situations? We calmly rejoice in God's guidance, look for the good, be the good, and trust in God's ability to bless. We all have what it takes to be like Joseph.