Trusting in Advance

By Julian Wells

“But Joseph said to them, ‘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.” (Genesis 50:19-20)

What is faith? I have encountered numerous answers to that question through the years. Here are just a few:

  • Hebrews 11:1 defines faith as “being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” 
  • Webster’s defines faith as “complete trust or confidence in someone or something.”
  • “It is the heart which experiences God and not reason. This, then, is faith: God felt by the heart, not by reason.” – Blaise Pascal
  • “Faith is a living, unshakeable confidence in God’s grace; it is so certain that someone would die a thousand times for it.” – Martin Luther

One of my favorite definitions of faith comes from Philip Yancey, who once wrote, “I have learned that faith means trusting in advance what will only make sense in reverse.” The older I get and the more I reflect on my own faith journey, the more I appreciate Yancey’s definition.

That was the definition that came to mind recently as I came to the end of the Book of Genesis with Joseph speaking those memorable, forgiving, and convicting words to his brothers, who were fearing Joseph’s retribution after the death of their father, Jacob. “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good…” (Gen. 50: 20)

Perhaps you are familiar with Joseph’s story, as told in chapters 37-50 of Genesis. Out of jealousy his brothers had sold him to some Midianite merchants and told Jacob he had been killed by animals. After those merchants then sold him to Potiphar, an Egyptian official, Joseph was falsely accused of molesting Potiphar’s wife and thrown into prison.

At that point, if anyone was ever justified in declaring that life is unfair, it certainly might have been Joseph. But at no time does he ever appear to entertain those thoughts. Instead, Genesis 39:23 says, “the Lord was with Joseph and gave him success in whatever he did.”

Even from a prison cell, Joseph earned Pharaoh’s trust in the face of a coming famine and was given great authority to prepare for it. With that authority, Joseph was eventually able to save his entire family, including those brothers who had once intended him great harm.

Joseph’s story is a fascinating picture of faithful obedience to God, the power of forgiveness, and trust in the sovereign control of God in the affairs of men.

Life is full of detours, disappointments, and difficulties. Sometimes these are the result of poor choices on our part. Sometimes we get caught in the blowback of other’s actions. Sometimes we are just in the wrong place at the wrong time. And sometimes God is doing a greater work that will only make sense when, like Joseph, we look at our lives in reverse.

Whatever the source, it is always tempting to wallow in our misfortune, blame others for our circumstances, or make excuses for our own bad choices. A better response is to remember the story of Joseph. Instead of excusing or fixing blame on others, regard your circumstances through eyes of faith as coming from God.

He just might be up to something good.

“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28)

Note: All Scripture references from the New International Version (NIV)


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