Constantly maligned, often verbally abused, bashed, beaten, left for dead, sold into forced slavery, framed and falsely accused by an employer, forgotten and taken advantage of by peers, … but then … in what would today make a regular (and predictable) plot line of a book or movie about the rise of the underdog, he arises, proves himself, gets promoted to prime minister and quite literally saves several nations. At the height of his success and newly received power he has the chance to face his childhood abusers and tormentors. Justice, as most would understand it, is at hand. But Joseph decides to turn away from the expectations of others. He does not allow his past to define and control him now or dictate his future. He will not be restricted by the expectations of others, especially the bullies.
The Joseph story has a strong emotional appeal. Those facing physical abuse, psychological manipulation, trauma, financial loss, unwarranted ill-deserved threats and intimidation find an alternate and uplifting perspective in Joseph’s words when he has the opportunity to confront his bullies.
“You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done” Genesis 50.20
The trap that snares modern applications of Joseph’s words is when God’s intentions are superficially equated with an abuser and tormentor. To say God “intends” someone to be abused to carry out his purpose maligns his character while simultaneously elevating the character of the bully.
A full parallel to Joseph, (as the saviour & redeemer of nations) is arrogant. The underlying principle is to respond in kind. The nature of torment and harassment is to dominate, manipulate and control through a façade of power (physical, financial, social). Those without self-respect, (like substance addicts who seek gratification in getting a fix by any means available), derive their own value through the debasement of others. Any, they can find.
Joseph’s brothers attacked and left him for dead (and later sold into slavery) to elevate themselves in the esteem of their father. They saw Joseph as a threat to their financial security and their control over their father’s wealth. The motivation is one of the oldest and most common: Bullying to gain/keep power for pleasure. Bullies, whether they profess to be Christian, Hindu, Muslim, Buddhist, Atheist, Secularist, Communist, all have the same thing in common: a deviance that derives pleasure from inflicting suffering on those they can (try!) to dominate and control.
Joseph’s conclusion is not a trite escapist cliché. The mistreatment of those with depraved motives does not define him. It clearly took incredible strength of will, but Joseph chose not to surrender to his brother’s agenda. He suffered. It cost him immensely: emotionally, psychologically, spiritually, socially, financially and geographically. But whether he was to live or die, it would not be on their terms.
Many who defy the agenda of abuse, torment, harassment, bullying and intimidation don’t experience the same subsequent prosperity as Joseph. Their resilience will erode the bully’s agenda, pleasure and power. But Joseph is not defining himself by their downfall anymore than he is allowing their torment to control his outlook and purpose. He decides not to play by their rules. He doesn’t play their game at all. The pay off in Joseph’s case was a reward from Pharaoh – a temporal King of kings. A pay off today comes when I realise that the bully isn’t my King and doesn’t have the last say in my value, purpose and destiny.
I realise, all too painfully, after having relocated, 6 months ago, away from a source of deviance and loss, that this is too easy to say and much harder to live out. It takes courage and, well, old-fashioned intestinal fortitude (i.e. guts!). Maybe things will “turn out for the better”. Regardless, the flaccid façade of the bully will be deflated and another King reigns, upright and more properly, in their place.