How do you define love? Affection, allegiance, devotion? 1 Corinthians 13 defines loves as patient, kind, not envying, not arrogant or rude. “It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth.” In other words – the opposite of anything and everything selfish.
Devotional Scripture: Genesis 39
Key Verse: “More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope.” Rom. 5:3-4
My dictionary app defines it as “a profoundly tender, passionate affection for another person.” I’m good with that. But I realized the other night while rocking my two year old that I’ve inadvertently added something to my definition. With his little arms about my neck and his head snuggled tightly against my shoulder I could not deny the overwhelming desire within me to protect him. Forever. From anything and everything hurtful and hard.
Because when you love someone you protect them, right? You walk closest to the road so they can walk in the grass. You kill bugs and spiders and bees. You taste the cottage cheese first to make sure it’s still good. You scream “STOP” at the top of your lungs when they run full steam into a parking lot. (And so on and so forth…you get the idea.)
Because love and protection go hand in hand. They just do. Which is why Genesis 39 puts my head in a tailspin. God loved Joseph. I don’t think there’s any doubt about that. He dedicated twelve whole chapters to the retelling of his story. He granted him success (v. 3, 23). He was with him constantly (v.2, 21, 23). He showed him steadfast love (v. 21). He gave him favor in the sight of his overseers. And wisdom and set him over all the land of Egypt. Yet God did not protect him from hurt and pain and devastating circumstances as my definition of love wants to assume he should have.
Taken unjustly from the vicious hands of his brothers, Joseph served as a slave to the best of his ability. His owner, Potiphar, took note and placed Joseph over everything in his home. Which was all well and good until Mrs. Potiphar noticed “Joseph was handsome in form and appearance” (v. 6). (A trait he got from his mother – cf. Gen. 29:17.)
Unable to restrain herself, she begged Joseph, “Lie with me.” In other words “Have sex with me.” But he refused, recognizing that to do so would be a sin against God (v.9). Yet she persisted day after day. Talk about temptation! Especially for a lonely young man in his twenties! Not to mention it’s quite likely Mrs. Potiphar was young and beautiful herself.
But one day she got forceful. Grabbing Joseph by his garment. Probably something like a long t-shirt. So the fact he had to leave his shirt implies she had a pretty good grip on him. Joseph had no choice but to flee. Doing exactly as he should according to 1 Corinthians 6:18. I kind of feel like we should stand up and clap. This is one impressive young man.
But instead of a standing ovation, “his feet were hurt with fetters; his neck was put in a collar of iron” (Ps. 105:18). Because Mrs. Potiphar lied straight through the skin of her beautiful teeth, falsely accusing Joseph of trying to rape her. (I feel angry just typing that.)
And you know who else was angry? Potiphar. Though I’m not so sure his anger was directed at Joseph or he would have killed him. Caught between a rock and a hard place (i.e. a wayward wife and a public scandal), Joseph was put in jail. And not just any jail – the place where the king’s prisoners went. God was doing something. But do you think Joseph understood that? Or do you think he questioned God’s love for him? “LORD I’ve done everything right! Why is this happening to me?”
Personally, I would set up camp on the questioning side of things. Because when you love someone you protect them from things that hurt right? Well, not necessarily. (And herein lies one of the biggest misunderstandings of God’s love.) According to Scripture sometimes it’s best for us to feel the hurt. Because “suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us” (Rom. 5:3-5).
God didn’t protect Joseph from disheartening circumstances because it wasn’t in Joseph’s best interest. God’s goal is not protecting me, it’s sanctifying me (making me more like Christ.) Which is often done through the hard things. The unfair things. The I don’t understand why this is happening things.
His love doesn’t protect us from everything that hurts. His love enables us to get through it.
2 Tim. 3:12 says, “Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” Jesus confirms in John 16:33, “In this world you will have tribulation.” He tells the disciples in Matthew 24, “Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations for my name’s sake.” (I know, so uplifting.)
Chances are we’re gonna go through some tough stuff. Sometimes those tough things are our own fault because of sin. Other times, it’s completely out of our control. But it’s never because God’s love is lacking. He never promised to protect us from everything hurtful and hard but He has promised to one day rescue us from it all. Thanks be to God who has “rescued us from the kingdom of darkness and transferred us into the Kingdom of his dear Son” (Col. 1:13).
My friend God’s love may not always look like we think it should. But rest assured He loves you. “There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:13, NLT). Just as Jesus has done for you.
Contemplate and Evaluate
Does your definition of love include protection? Has it caused you to question God’s love in hard to understand situations?
How has God’s love enabled you to get through difficult circumstances?
(Photo credit: Pixabay)