The last time we mentioned that if Joseph had never been sold into slavery, he would have never been in a position to become what he became.
And the wily atheist — the one who admits, btw, that even he might be willing to suffer for the sake of something, like being part of the 60 million who had to die to bring to an end the suffering of 6 million others in a small minority group — would probably say, “hey: that’s an overstatement at best. Maybe Joseph could not have made his way from Potipher’s house to the jail to the right hand of Pharaoh (granting, implausibly, that there is a shred of truth in this story), but to say there was no way for him to become Pharaoh’s agent to make the storehouses of grain without him suffering is far-fetched at best. He didn’t have to suffer to become king of the world: God could have just wedged him in there either by birth or by some other non-suffering method.”
But the thing that the wily atheist overlooks here is that this objection is speculative at best, and disjointed from reality at worst. He has abandoned his existential reasoning for fantasy exactly when the existential truth betrays him.
Let’s take Barack Obama for example — who didn’t get sold into slavery in order to become President of the United States. Someone might have the audacity of hope to say he certainly didn’t suffer to become leader of the Free World — but those people, frankly, have never tried to lead the life he lead to run for President.
Now, don’t get me wrong: I’m not hardly shilling for President Obama here. What I’m saying is that the reality check against the atheist claim that suffering is theoretically not necessary to achieve power must be weighed against the existential fact that he cannot produce one person in the history of the world who came to significant power without suffering, without making trade offs and giving up one thing in order to attain another. They had to pay some kind of price to get what they wanted, and usually it was not a small price.
See: the measuring stick here is existential fact. The “problem of evil” is measured by the atheist by the existential fact that there is pain in the world. Having pointed this out, and having set the groundwork for his complaint, if we allow his complaint to stand we cannot then walk away from its basis after he has finished complaining.
If the existential fact of pain is the problem, and it exists when we rule out God as a cause or a solution, we cannot then just toss out pain as a factor in the world. So to say then that Joseph should not have had to suffer to become something more than the second-youngest son in a family of ancient shepherds doesn’t make sense in an atheist, existential world. The problem is that the atheist thinks that God should not allow a bit of it.
Existentially, the story of Joseph makes sense. That is, it fits the pattern of the world we know to say that Joseph had to suffer some kind of hardship to become a close advisor to the ruler of Egypt as anyone who seeks out power finds it will do. It fits the pattern we know, which is that sometimes 60 million people have to die to save 6 million Jews from the Holocaust; it fits the pattern that sometimes we have to take out the appendix to save the body. That is the world we have, and to say that it “doesn’t make sense” is to ignore that it does make sense to us every day. But when we talk about God we think that if God doesn’t value ease and comfort the way we do, He’s somehow a vile lie. Maybe it is simply true that God has a greater purpose than the immediate comfort of any one person.
One may then say, “well, fie upon the dreams and the miracles — those condemn that story as complete nonsense,” but that is a different complaint. The Bible uses the story of Joseph to make one singular point: in some way, men intend some actions for the sake of evil, but somehow those actions play out to redeem them in spite of themselves. The story of Joseph is not merely about how one boy suffered much and became king of the world. It is a story in which God intends to use even the bad intentions of those who ought to love each other in order to save the whole world from starvation.
The “somehow” in “somehow redeem them in spite of themselves” is critical to the point of the Bible as a whole — and it is the thing which the atheist must deal with in the end.
These men intended what happened to Joseph for evil — but because Joseph was sold into slavery, and was made a prisoner under false pretenses something which saves many is made to happen.
That’s not a moral magic trick: that’s the way we know the world works.
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