TRUSTING GOD’S PROVIDENCE is not to be confused with succumbing to fatalism. It is not a resigned sigh of Que sera, sera – “What will be, will be.” This Joseph understood (Gen. 40).
The account of Pharaoh’s cupbearer and baker does not tell us which of the two, if either, was actually guilty of something; it only tells us which of the two Pharaoh decided was guilty. Even then, we are not told the nature of the crime. The focus, rather, is on their respective dreams, and the fact that only Joseph, of those in prison, is able to interpret their dreams. The interpretations are so dramatic, and so precisely fulfilled, that their accuracy cannot be questioned.
Joseph himself is under no illusion as to the source of his powers. “Do not interpretations belong to God?” he asks (40:8). Even before Pharaoh, where he might have been expected to slant his explanations just a little so as to enhance his own reputation, Joseph will later insist even more emphatically that he cannot himself interpret dreams; God alone can do it (41:16, 25).
Yet despite this unswerving loyalty to God, despite this candid confession for his own limitations, despite the sheer tenacity and integrity of his conduct under unjust suffering, Joseph does not confuse God’s providence with fatalism. The point is demonstrated in this chapter in two ways.
First, Joseph is quite prepared to tell his predicament to the cupbearer (the servant who will be released in three days and restored to the court) in the hope that he might be released (40:14-15). Joseph’s faith in God does not mean that he becomes entirely passive. He takes open action to effect improvement in his circumstances, provided that action is stamped with integrity.
Second, when he briefly describes the circumstances that brought him into prison, Joseph does not hide the sheer evil that was done. He insists he “was forcibly carried off from the land of the Hebrews” (40:15). The point was important, for most slaves became such because of economic circumstances. For example, when people fell into bankruptcy, they sold themselves into slavery. But that was not what had happened to Joseph, and he wanted Pharaoh to know it. He was a victim. Further, even during his life as a slave in Egypt he did “nothing to deserve being put in a dungeon” – which of course means he was incarcerated unjustly. Thus Joseph does not confuse God’s providential rule with God’s moral approbation.
Fatalism and pantheism have no easy way of distinguishing what is from what ought to be. Robust biblical theism encourages us to trust the goodness of the sovereign, providential God, while confronting and opposing the evil that takes place in this fallen world.