The Old Testament character, Joseph, endured enough injustice to fill multiple lifetimes. Betrayed by his family, sold into slavery, falsely accused of sexual assault, unfairly abandoned in a Middle Eastern prison: It was enough to break the hardiest of souls.
But Joseph refused to play the role of victim, hopelessly languishing over how life had cheated him. Along with his ever-present trust in God was the tenacity to act, to do something, to play his role.
Waiting on God is patient work, but it is not idle work. While he waited, Joseph did what he could.
Mount Pinatubo erupted in the Philippines in summer 1991. The volcano had been considered dormant for hundreds of years. When it erupted unexpectedly, more than 200 people were killed and 200,000 were displaced.
One people group, the Aetas, was especially devastated by the eruption and the days that followed. The Aeta tribe is a group of aboriginal people who live on the slopes of Mount Pinatubo.
For them, Pinatubo is a place of destiny. They have no choice but to call this dangerous place home. After the eruption, the Filipino government planned to build new settlements and permanently relocate the Aetas.
These plans were eventually frustrated by the lack of cooperation from the Aetas. Two years after the eruption, the Aetas became tired of waiting in camps and commenced the return to their homes on the volcano’s slopes – against the instructions of Western geologists and Filipino authorities.
The Aetas are ruled by doom. They continue to refuse assistance and safe relocation due to mistrustfulness of modern conveniences and the conclusion that a divine fate dictates their future. Pinatubo is not merely a place they call home. It is the only place they feel they can live.
This kind of fatalism once played a prominent role in American life as well. One factor formerly identified in the surprisingly high rate of tornado fatalities in the Southern Bible Belt was the belief that all events are inevitable and people should submit to their fate without protest.
Upon hearing a tornado warning, those in the Midwest, Great Plains, and other portions of the country responded with action. They sought shelter, went to the basement, or got out of the path of the storm. Southerners, steeped in a kind of Christian fatalism, understood the threat as an inescapable act of God.
They saw themselves as powerless to act. They huddled in their clapboard houses and prayed for deliverance. This type of fatalism has thankfully eroded due to maturity and education. Those in the South now respond to storm warnings as well as anyone. There was a time when this was not the case at all.
Many of us maintain this same kind of blind fatalism in our personal and spiritual lives. When the world collapses around us, we resign ourselves to a life of misery, waiting for the other shoe to drop. We give up. This is our fate; our end; the only path destined for us.
But Joseph was resilient. In fact, resiliency separates those who ultimately prevail from those who surrender to their circumstances. It is the stuff of which Joseph was made. What does resiliency look like? It’s hard to say, but we recognize it when we see it.
Scores of studies have been conducted in recent years analyzing the survival skills of prisoners of war, victims of prolonged sexual abuse, and other trauma survivors. Resiliency is the ability to bounce back in the face of great difficulty; the knack within a person to bend, but not break, under pressure.
Resiliency enables a person to face the crippling effects of adversity and to overcome. When disaster strikes, those with this kind of endurance adapt, persevere, and somehow even thrive. These hardy souls learn to keep living without the paralysis of fear and panic.
Ernest Hemingway wrote, “The world breaks everyone and afterwards many are strong at the broken places.” That is resiliency. That is Joseph.
This one who could have resigned himself to victimization became a survivor. It’s not that he didn’t feel the heat of the pressure cooker. Certainly he did. Doubtless, he grew downhearted and depressed on a regular basis.
He simply did not allow these to define his life or his future. And neither should we.
This is an article based on Ronnie McBrayer’s book, But God Meant it for Good; Lessons from the Life of Joseph, available at www.ronniemcbrayer.net.