• 9 October 2023

Chapter 3 – Thorns and Roses

Since I was diagnosed with cancer I’ve never felt angry with God, but I’ve often felt bewildered and wondered, ‘Why me?’. I think we all feel something of this when we face fear and suffering.

In answering this question, I have found the story of Joseph to be helpful. It shows us very clearly that God’s ways in suffering are mysterious and far, far beyond our understanding. In fact, it seems to me that the more I see of God’s plans the more mysterious they are.

This shouldn’t surprise us. In the book of Isaiah, God says, ‘my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways’ (Is. 55:8). God doesn’t ask us to understand what’s going on; He asks us to trust Him. We are the clay and He is the potter.

One important truth that the story of Joseph reveals is that Christians should expect life to bring us thorns as well as roses. While Joseph wasn’t perfect, in general, he tried to live a virtuous life. It would have been easy to give in to temptation when Potiphar’s wife tried to seduce him. He rightly resists but is rewarded by being slung into prison.

The Lord Jesus invites us to take up our cross daily and follow Him. The prosperity gospel would have us believe that Christians should expect health, wealth and happiness. But that is no gospel. It is a lie from hell.

Through Joseph’s experience we also see that God’s timing is perfect. By nature I am prone to impatience. One of the things that I believe God is trying to teach me in illness is patience. From the moment he entered slavery to his dramatic revelation before his brothers, Joseph had to wait twenty-four years. How many times must he have longed to be free? Especially after he had helped Pharaoh’s cupbearer interpret the dream, only to be forgotten by the man he had helped.

In his excellent book Mysterious Ways, David Kingdon points out that Joseph must have eagerly expected the key in his prison door and his moment of release. But for two long years nothing happened. Yet, in a strange way, isn’t that encouraging? The cupbearer had forgotten him, but God had not. Nor will God ever forget us, even when we are in the dungeon of suffering.

Finally, we see in Joseph’s life that God often turns evil for good. As his brothers plead for his mercy, he reassures them, ‘you intended to harm me, but God intended it for good’ (Gen. 50:20). In this moment we see that Joseph is a type of, or signpost to, Christ. Like Christ he was betrayed by his brothers, sold for thirty pieces of silver, unjustly sentenced and resurrected from prison to be the saviour of multitudes.

I find this so helpful. The cancer cells that are meant to harm me, I believe, God is using for good. I have had more opportunities to read the Bible with friends as I have more time and many of them are intrigued by my experience. Suffering makes us vulnerable and vulnerability can open people up to hear about the Saviour. The same may be true for you. We may not understand what has happened to us, but we can be sure that we are all part of God’s plan. I believe that we will only know what part we play when we feet Him face to face.

Ultimately we, like Abraham, can rely on God’s character. ‘Shall not the judge of all the earth do right?’ Only in heaven will we get an answer to this, but then everything will drop into place and we will fall to our knees in love and amazement.

As the hymn* says:

With mercy and with judgment

my web of time he wove

and aye the dews of sorrow

were lustred by His love

I’ll bless the hand that guided

I’ll bless the heart that planned

when throned where glory dwelleth

in Emmanuel’s land.

One day we will bless the hand face to face. In the meantime we must, like small children, place our hand by faith in the hand of Almighty God.

*Anne Ross Cousin, ‘The Sands of Time are Sinking’, 1860.

Excerpt from Hope in the face of suffering – 20 devotions for tough times by Jeremy Marshall

Return to the main page to access other chapters once published