The Story: Promise, Providence, Predestination and Patience, Part 1 (Close Every Door)

The YouTube clip is from the musical “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat,” by Andrew Lloyd-Webber. The lyrics are by Tim Rice. The singer is Donny Osmond, who played Joseph.

The scene is Joseph in prison in Egypt. He’d been imprisoned based on false charges by the wife of Potiphar, an Egyptian official. Joseph had been sold into slavery by his brothers, his father thought that he was dead, he was in prison in Egypt with no friends and no money, and so he was in an utterly hopeless situation.

And yet he sings, “Children of Israel are never alone. … For I have been promised
a land of my own.” He finds comfort in God’s promises to Abraham — his great-grandfather, even though he knows he may never see the promises fulfilled in his own lifetime.

Close Every Door

Joseph

Close every door to me,
Hide all the world from me
Bar all the windows
And shut out the light.

Do what you want with me,
Hate me and laugh at me
Darken my daytime
And torture my night.

If my life were important I
Would ask will I live or die
But I know the answers lie
Far from this world.

Close every door to me,
Keep those I love from me
Children of Israel
Are never alone.

For I know I shall find
My own peace of mind
For I have been promised
A land of my own.

Children

Close every door to me,
Hide all the world from me
Bar all the windows
And shut out the light.

Joseph

Just give me a number
Instead of my name
Forget all about me
And let me decay.

I do not matter,
I’m only one person
Destroy me completely
Then throw me away.

If my life were important I
Would ask will I live or die
But I know the answers lie
Far from this world.

Joseph, Ensemble & Children

Close every door to me,
Keep those I love from me
Children of Israel
Are never alone.

For we know we shall find
Our own peace of mind
For we have been promised
A land of our own

Joseph sees that God’s story is more important than his own role. He doesn’t expect to be personally rescued — although he is not utterly without hope — he knows that in the larger scheme of things, God will keep his promises, if not through Joseph, then some other way.

Joseph’s faith, therefore, is in God, but not necessarily that God will make everything right for Joseph today.

After all, he’s in prison, and while he may leave prison tomorrow or the next day, nothing will change the fact that he’s in prison right now. His faith doesn’t depend on God solving all his problems, and certainly not that God will make sure nothing bad will ever happen to him.

Rather, his faith in God can help him to see that there are bigger things going on, that he’s part of something much more important than himself, something that could change the entire world.

Predestination and Providence

We in the Churches of Christ like to think that it’s only the Presbyterians who are supposed to believe in predestination. However, it’s a doctrine taught throughout the Bible, beginning in Genesis.

In Acts, Luke records a prayer of the early church responding to the beginnings of persecution. They church paraphrases Psalm 2 to conclude —

(Act 4:26-28 ESV)  26 “‘The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers were gathered together, against the Lord and against his Anointed’ —  27 for truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel,  28 to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place.”

They realize that God had caused David to prophesy that the rulers of the earth would rage against Jesus and his followers. And so they took comfort in the fact that their suffering was all a part of God’s larger plan to redeem the world. God foresaw it, and therefore it’s a part of God’s plan, and therefore it’s good — even though painful and frightening.

Amazing, isn’t it? I mean, God’s people are suffering because very powerful men were threatening their lives, and the church celebrates the outworking of God’s master plan! Because it’s God’s will, it’s good — and while we may not live long enough to see the happy ending, the redemption and glorification of the sons of Abraham, we know for a fact it will happen, and we delight in the fact that we can play some part in God’s Story.

Oh … wow!

Here’s what happened next —

(Act 4:31 ESV)  31 And when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness.

They were fearless, not because they couldn’t be imprisoned or killed, but because they knew what they were doing was God’s will and that they were participating in God’s mission to redeem the world.

It’s not “God is on my side and therefore I cannot be hurt” but “I’m on God’s side, and so I’m willing to accept any hurt that comes my way.”

We often want to debate predestination in terms of free will and such like, but that is not the point of the doctrine. We so intellectualize it that we suck the power and life right out of it.

Rather, the point of predestination is that God not only knows the future, but he’s working toward the future that he has promised us. It’s not that we are robots mindlessly obeying the overwhelming sovereignty of God. Rather, the point is that God has a plan, God will prevail, the fulfillment he has promised will certainly happen, and we’ve been invited to participate with God in bringing it all about.

We’re on the winning side, but we still have to be involved, fully engaged, and participating with all our might.

(It’s rather like playing football for Alabama. You know you’re going to win — but winning requires the utmost in discipline and effort.)

Providence

Let’s think about the story of Joseph. Joseph’s father gave him a “coat of many colors.” His brothers sold him to slave traders, and the slave traders sold him to Potiphar, in Egypt. Joseph is falsely accused and imprisoned. He interprets the dreams of two fellow inmates, which later allows him to interpret the dreams of Pharaoh, which leads to Joseph becoming the vice-regent over all Egypt. As a result, his family moves to Egypt, grows large and prosperous in the Land of Goshen (a part of Egypt with very rich soil), and eventually leads to the Israelites becoming slaves — all of which leads to Moses and the Exodus.

That’s a lot of crazy coincidences, and if any one of those steps had not happened, either there’d have been no Exodus and no Moses, or else God would have had to move history toward the Exodus by very different means.

Some of these steps were obviously miracles. The dreams from God and Joseph’s interpretations would be classified as miracles by most people. But what about the failed seduction of Joseph by Potiphar’s wife? What about Pharaoh’s decision to settle the Israelites in Goshen?

Well, these are things we like to call the “providence” of God, that is, God’s hand moving in history, to push things in the direction he wants, but without violating the laws of nature. We like to pretend that providence is not really a miracle — because, well, we’re uncomfortable with God moving the heart of a woman to want to seduce Joseph — as necessary as that event was for history to unfold toward Moses and the Exodus.

Of course, it could be that God merely operated by means of his foreknowledge. The miracle might have been in making sure it was Potiphar who bought Joseph at the slave market, with God knowing that Potiphar’s wife would behave as she did. Even so, it still would be God causing people to do things they wouldn’t otherwise do, to make certain that history unfolds according to God’s plan. There was at least a miracle in the slave market, if not in the mind of Potiphar’s wife.

You see, anytime God causes outcome B to happen when outcome A would have happened but for God’s intervention, it’s a miracle. God somehow or other influenced events to happen differently — even if the miracle didn’t involve fire falling from heaven or the earth opening up. Miracles don’t have to require CGI special effects to truly be miracles from God.

[to be continued]

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About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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One Response to The Story: Promise, Providence, Predestination and Patience, Part 1 (Close Every Door)

  1. laymond says:

    “(It’s rather like playing football for Alabama. You know you’re going to win — but winning requires the utmost in discipline and effort.)”
    predestined, maybe that is why “Johnny Football ” was not disciplined more severely, Texas A&M is predestined to teach “Bama” not to be so sure of their self. I remember not so long ago when “Bama” had been thrown into a pit and their coat was bloodied, pride goeth before a fall.

    Pro 16:18 Pride [goeth] before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall.

    Johnny, was saved just to destroy the “pride and haughtyness of “Bamma” and therefore save their soul 🙂

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