Genesis 39-40

Sometimes life drops you down to the absolute bottom of the barrel. It comes out of nowhere. It hurts like a maddening itch. It makes you want to cry and wail or scream and shake your fist at the sky. There isn’t a single person alive who enjoys hitting rock bottom. The heartache of the experience is almost worse than the event itself. So what do we do? Most often we assure ourselves that this is as bad as it’s going to be. That this is terrible, but odds are it won’t get any worse. Unfortunately, that just isn’t the case.

The truth of the matter is that things can actually always get worse. You are not guaranteed or owed improvement. In a lot of ways, there’s actually no such thing as rock bottom because things honestly can always find a way to get worse as poor Joseph knew all too well. 

When we last saw Joseph, things had abruptly gone rather terribly in his life. His brothers had sold him into slavery out of sheer hatred and his father had no idea what had happened to him. It’s a depressing situation to consider, going from father’s beloved, favorite son to a slave dragged from his homeland with no certainty in his future. We don’t know much about Joseph’s personality. Maybe he was a positive thinker. Maybe he tried to look on the bright side and thought to himself “Well this is bad, but it could be worse.”

There’s reason to believe this was Joseph’s attitude, because as soon as he’s sold to Potiphar, he sets about proving himself to be an invaluable worker. God was still deeply invested in Joseph’s life, and saw to it that his hard work lead to him to greater heights in his captivity. God didn’t just bless Joseph either. Genesis also tells us that God blessed Potiphar’s household so Potiphar would have no choice but to admit that Joseph was someone destined for greatness. In time, Joseph was no longer looked on as a slave and became Potiphar’s top man for getting jobs done. Considering all that had befallen him since the beginning of his story, this might have been the best Joseph was hoping for in his life. Things were finally looking up for him, and then Potiphar’s wife sashayed onto the scene.

This insatiable woman comes after Joseph with frightening intensity, and when he says no to her advances she ruins everything he’s worked for. One false accusation and Potiphar changes from an ally to the destroyer of Joseph’s hope. Overnight Joseph finds himself stripped of his position and cast into prison. Valued on an even lower rung than when he was slave and left to forgotten in the dark. Joseph did everything right, and he still found himself back at the bottom, arguably even lower than before. 

If Joseph had thought things were bad before, I can only imagine how much his heart was broken by this sudden turn of events. To say that he was at rock bottom almost feels like an understatement. I’m reminded of a scene from Friends when a despairing Rachel declares “It’s like there’s rock bottom, then fifty feet of crap, then me.” Joseph hadn’t just hit the bottom. He was at rock bottom and ordered to start digging. Whatever he may have thought in his early days of slavery of “This HAS to be as bad as it can get!” had just been blown so far out of the water it made slavery look like a walk in the park. 

To make matters even worse, though Joseph honored God and rose in status even in prison, his act of kindness to other prison mates was left behind. After interpreting the dream of an official Joseph knew would be reinstated with Pharaoh soon, Joseph asks the man to speak to Pharaoh on his behalf in the hopes of being freed. But as soon as Joseph is out of sight the man forgets him entirely and Joseph is left where he stands, holding the broken remains of his dreams. 

Joseph is not the only person to be dropped to the bottom of the barrel of life. We’ve all experienced some heartbreak that’s prompted us to say the fateful words “It can’t get any worse than this!”. This phrase is rampant in our world to the point of being a complete cliche. It’s something to snicker at in a movie, or shake our heads at when someone else says it because deep down we know the truth. Yes, yes indeed it can get so much worse. 

And I get it. It hurts. It truly, truly hurts. But experiencing a rock bottom is so often completely bogged down by our ideas of where we’re going and exactly how quickly we should be getting there. But do you want to know the truth?

You are not guaranteed to always be taking steps forward. 

We live in a world that is absolutely obsessed with forward motion. We always want to know what the next step is for us and others. When are you graduating? When am I getting that promotion? How much longer till I own a house? When are you going to settle down and marry someone? There’s not just a mild interest in these points, there’s a full blown sense of urgency whether we like to admit it or not. Someone can tell you they don’t care about what’s coming next in life, but watch what happens when something comes along that puts a bump in their five year plan. We’re obsessed. Here’s the problem with that, though. 

If we live with the mindset that life is only going right so long as we’re moving up we will never be prepared when life tries to take us down. 

Part of the responsibility of Christian living, is actively recognizing that the story is not about you. The story can’t be thrown off by your rock bottom if the story wasn’t about you to begin with. The sooner we start recognizing that we have a guest star role instead of being a main character, the sooner we let go of our obsession with timing and where we should be in the hierarchy of accomplishment.

So how does that look practically? It looks like not giving rock bottom wiggle room to make us doubt the validity of God’s story. It looks like keeping your attitude in check honestly and relentlessly. By all means, admit that it’s hard. You’re not going to save yourself any time pretending it isn’t. But how you talk about the hardship makes the big difference. 

Who we are when everything goes wrong matters far more than who we are when everything is going right.

Even if it never gets better, even if fifty feet of crap turns into a hundred feet of crap, even if you have absolutely no idea why you should even bother anymore you must absolutely stay the course. Why? Because someone is always watching. And they are forming opinions about your God by your trial. Glorifying God does not mean running around with a tambourine and making up worship songs on the spot. Sometimes it’s as simple as looking the temptation to turn your back on him after living in hardship and simply saying “no.” No, I will not give up. I will not be a fair weather follower. I will not claim that I’ve been mistreated by God.

You don’t have control over a lot of the things that happen to you, but you always, always have control over your reactions. Will you throw a fit and curse God? Or will you dig deep and wait it out like Joseph did? Joseph spent the next two years forgotten in prison, and yet he continued to honor God with his words and actions. That kind of faith does not go unrewarded, even if we don’t see that for years to come. 

Had Joseph lost his cool and turned his back on the Lord, God would still carry out his story, but he wanted Joseph and Joseph’s willing heart to endure for so much greatness around the corner as we will soon see. He absolutely intends the same for us. So yes, it can absolutely get worse. It can get so much worse. But it can also get so much better, and we serve a God who does not want an eternity of rock bottom for us. That is not his way. Hold on, endure, and show those watching exactly what it means to give God the glory. It may very likely get worse, but you might just be the better for it. 

Let’s find some joy, 

A.R.