A Lifetime of Sorrow

“I will be sad about my son until the day I die.” So Jacob cried for his son Joseph.
—Genesis 37:35

In a moment of casual cruelty born out of sibling rivalry, Joseph’s older brothers sold him into slavery. Then to cover up their crime they led their father Jacob to believe he’d been killed by wild animals.

Jacob had lived through interesting times. First in the shadow of his jock brother Esau, then on the run from that brother, whom he’d just conned. Then locking horns in a battle of wits with his uncle Laban and struggling through complicated family politics. Eventually returning to his home town with considerable wealth and resources, yet still fearful of his brother’s reception. Through all of this, from child to young man to married with children to respected patriarch, Jacob had always been aware of God’s care over him, God’s acting in power to bless him and prosper him.

But on that day Jacob’s life changed, permanently. The grief and sadness at the loss of his beloved son became the core of his existence. At this point the story shifts to Joseph and his adventures in Egypt, and we don’t hear much more about Jacob. His relationship with God, though rocky at times, had always been close and intense. Now this immense sorrow displaced all else, even his relationship with God.

I don’t know what saddens me more about this story: the loss of a loved son, or the loss of trust in the goodness and faithfulness of God. And beneath the sadness is an undercurrent of anger at the brothers who caused all of this in the first place. Amy Lee wrote a song, My Heart Is Broken, after working with people caught up in sex trafficking in New York, to express some of the sadness and despair she saw. It’s been an appropriate soundtrack to this part of the story.

We know how the story ends happily for Jacob and Joseph, how they’re reunited at last, how it was all part of God’s great plan (in fact, Joseph’s life foreshadowed Jesus’ experiences centuries later, something nobody at the time would have had the slightest inkling of). But by then Jacob was a broken man. The decades of sorrow had irrevocably changed him.

Similarly, as believers we look forward to a day promised by God when all sorrow and tears will be banished. But that hope for the future doesn’t change the fact that sometimes we live through intensely difficult times of sadness, anger, injustice, or loneliness. And sometimes those things will displace our ability to trust in God’s love and care for us. If that’s where you are right now there’s not much I can say or do except stand with you and weep for your sorrows. And continue to trust that God is working out His plan to achieve His purposes for good.

Bible Reading:
Genesis 37:1–38:30
Psalm 9:11-20
Proverbs 3:31-35
Matthew 13:1-30

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