The friction that brothers and sisters experience with one another is described with the phrase, “sibling rivalry.” In the story about Joseph and his relationship with his ten older brothers (see Genesis 37-50), we discover a description of the problem in its most extreme, murderous form. In fact, Joseph’s brothers decide not to kill him only because their greed was greater than their hatred of him. They decided that selling him into slavery was preferable to killing him, since that way they got rid of both the annoying younger brother and they got some cash to spend on the party later to celebrate his departure.
Joseph’s experiences over the next two decades of his life were mostly awful. Sold to Potipher, an Egyptian official, he became the object of lust by the man’s wife. When he refused her advances, she falsely accused her of attempted rape. So he went from being a slave to being a prisoner in a dungeon.
There, he one day accurately interpreted the dreams of two of his cellmates: a baker and cupbearer of the king of Egypt, the Pharaoh. The baker wound up executed, just as his dream had predicted, but the cupbearer was restored to his favored position with the Pharaoh. Three years later, when Pharaoh had a dream that no one could interpret, the cupbearer remembered Joseph and told Pharaoh about him.
Joseph came before the king, successfully interpreted the dream as a prophesy of coming famine, and suggested preparations should be made, with someone put in charge of stockpiling foodstuffs. The Pharaoh was impressed enough by Joseph to make him the man in charge, and so Joseph, overnight, went from prisoner to the second most powerful man in Egypt.
When his brothers came looking for food a few years later, Joseph gave them a hard time, but eventually rescued them from their problem and brought both them and his father down to Egypt to live with him in splendor. After his father died, Joseph’s brothers became worried that Joseph might seek at last to bring vengeance upon them for how badly they had treated him. But Joseph, catching wind of their fears, reassured them by explaining, “Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God? You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. So then, don’t be afraid. I will provide for you and your children.” (Genesis 50:20-21)
The suffering of Joseph’s life had not been without purpose. Most of the time, people never see the reason for the suffering they experience. It arrives unexpectedly and seems entirely without purpose or reason, making people suspect that God is more like a mean kid pulling the legs off spiders so he can watch them squirm than a loving father.
For my wife and I, being unable to have children of our own was a devastating sorrow. But it led us to investigate foster care, something we would never have done had we not been childless. For the three little girls that wound up in our home, whom we ultimately adopted, it was the best possible outcome. They went from places of danger, drug exposure and neglect, to a loving and caring household. Their lives have turned out radically different than they otherwise might have. What seemed initially a bad thing for us turned out to be a blessing, and not just for us.
God is in the habit of perverting evil for good.