“How’s my theology?”
That was the question that went through my mind as I reflected on the story of Joseph recorded for us in the book of Genesis. This question specifically was raised by texts like Genesis 45:8- “So it was not you who sent me here, but God” and 50:20- “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good.”
Those texts, these statements made by Joseph to his brothers, are a glimpse into Joseph’s firm grip on the doctrine of God’s sovereignty. However, as those text and the story that surrounds them reveal, Joseph didn’t just have a textbook understanding of God’s sovereignty. He didn’t have a merely academic understanding of this great doctrine. He had the roots of his life planted firmly in this rich truth and those deep roots were producing some beautiful fruit in his life.
First, notice the humility in Joseph’s life because of his understanding of God’s sovereignty. Here is the full text of Genesis 45:8- “So it was not you who sent me here, but God. He has made me a father to Pharaoh, and lord of all his house and ruler over all the land of Egypt.” Do you see how Joseph views his new position as second to Pharaoh? “He [God] has made me…”.
Let’s take a moment and think about this statement. Remember what Joseph had been through? Although he was sold into slavery, he ascended to the position of steward over Potiphar’s house. Then, after he stood against temptation, he is tossed into prison. But does he just wallow there? Nope, not Joseph. Again, he ascends to a high rank. What is his reward? He is the forgotten prisoner, left to rot in jail two more years after helping Pharaoh’s cup-bearer. Finally, Joseph is given his chance: he is called in to interpret Pharaoh’s dream and he comes through with flying colors. He then sets out a plan to help Pharaoh not only save his kingdom, but increase his wealth exponentially. Finally, an ascent that sticks!
So, here’s the question: what if Joseph didn’t view his life through the lens of God’s sovereignty but instead looked at it through the eyes of any good, red-blooded American? How would he then interpret this series of events?
I think if Joseph was like most Americans, he’d see his life as a powerful, self-promoting rags to riches story! He’d say to his brothers, “Look how I pulled myself up by my boot-straps! Look how I turned the lemons you gave me into lemonaide! Look at how I’ve overcome!” Joseph would be out to get a book deal and start giving motivational seminars on how you too can go from slave to celebrity, how you too can become a self-made man!
But, he doesn’t do or say any of that! His eyes see only the hand of a Sovereign God working all things after the counsel of His will. And that vision produces great humility in Joseph’s life and crushes this prime opportunity for pride in his life. That is some beautiful fruit.
But look at what else can be found on the branches of Joseph’s life. Look at the hope this doctrine of God’s sovereignty produced in Joseph.
You’ve got to wondered what Joseph thought after he was forgotten by the cup-bearer. When the cup-bearer was reinstated into Pharaoh’s court, Joseph probably assumed his deliverance was immanent and that his time in prison was over. But look at what Genesis 41:1 records: “After two whole years, Pharaoh dreamed that he was standing by the Nile…”. Just think about that: two whole years! How would you handle being forgotten and left in jail for two whole years?! I know how I’d handle it; I’d be devastated. I’d probably throw in the towel and say “I quit!” But Joseph keeps going. He doesn’t quit. Why? Because of his theology.
He knew God was in charge and God had a plan. He knew what others meant for evil, God meant for good. And that produced hope. Truly understanding our God is in charge should always produce hope. Isn’t that why Paul wrote, “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28) and isn’t that why the page upon which those words appear in your Bible is probably worn out and marked up?
This great treasure called “hope” is solidly founded on the doctrine of God’s sovereignty. Without this doctrine, hope would merely be wishing and the future would be up for grabs. But Joseph wasn’t simply a good wisher, he was a man whose hope was built squarely on the truth that he knew God, his good God, was in charge.
And seeing how this doctrine manifested itself in Joseph’s life, seeing the fruit that it produced, lead me to question my theology. Often I find fruit in my life that ought not be there. It is not humility and hope, but pride and doubt and worry and… well, the stuff we’d rather not have on the tree of our life. So, why is that fruit there?
My answer is that this fruit is there because my life isn’t fully grounded in good (or better “the right”) theology. Now, don’t get me wrong- I’m not tossing out my doctrinal statement or abandoning the beliefs of the church I attend and minister in. But what I am doing is checking the connections.
Follow me on this. Just because I can explain a doctrine and defend it accurately from the scriptures does not mean that I have the right theology; my explanation of a theological truth might be true to the Bible, but is it really my theology? Have I really made it my own by planting the roots of my life deep in it and making sure the truth I explain is fully connected with my life? Do you see my point? What I live declares my theology; my life proclaims what I believe about God. Our theology isn’t simply what comes out of our mouths; it is what comes out of our lives. The halls of academia are filled with men and women who can spout off great theological answers, but whose lives are a wreck with sin and foolishness. I don’t want that (who would?); I want fruit that reflects what I say I believe. I want a life that is filled with the fruit of right theology.
I want a life that speaks like Joseph’s.