In less than two months, regardless of the quality of our eyesight, we’ll all be seeing 2020 – on our calendars. In one respect, I can’t wait to see what the new year holds. However, if the crazy current year is any indication, maybe waiting wouldn’t be a bad idea. Lately, however, I’ve been thinking about a different kind of 20:20. Not the kind revealed by an eye chart, but the perfect vision afforded to us through the benefits of hindsight.
Have you ever experienced a time of extreme disappointment, when at that moment it seemed as if all of your hopes and dreams were crashing down? Then, days or weeks or months, or even years later, you realized that setback wasn’t so bad after all?
One man who attested to that was Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, who courageously exposed many of the evils of Communism under Joseph Stalin. For his efforts, he was sentenced to years of imprisonment in a Soviet gulag in the 1950s. Deprivation he experienced in the “corrective labor camp” provided unique insights into human suffering and the meaning of life. Most important, it became an integral part of his spiritual journey, leading him to conclude, “Bless you, prison, for having been in my life!”
Bless prison? How could anyone regard cruel confinement as a “blessing”? And yet, that was how Solzhenitsyn came to regard it as he wrote a series of books called The Gulag Archipelago.I know of other individuals who could look back on their time in prison as a spiritual turning point. Among them was the late Charles Colson, a former chief aide to President Richard Nixon, whose own prison experience led him to start the Prison Fellowship ministry that continues to touch many thousands of inmates nationwide.
For individuals like this, flawless hindsight revealed to them God could use a devastating experience as part of His process for shaping them into the people He intended for them to become.
Thankfully, I’ve not experienced anything remotely close to that. But numerous times, circumstances caused me to wonder, “Where did I go wrong?” or, “What in the world’s going on?” Only later did I learn how God had allowed the distressing circumstances to take place so that He could guide me to something much better than I could have imagined.
The Scriptures provide numerous examples of individuals whose lives seemed to reach a dead end, only to realize God was preparing them for future use. One who comes to mind is Joseph, the young man whose own brothers sold him into slavery out of resentment for his father’s favoritism. Taking that lemon and turning it into lemonade, Joseph became a valued servant in the household of Potiphar, a prominent Egyptian official.
But that was hardly the end of his story. Joseph’s faithful service was unjustly “rewarded” by Potiphar’s wife when he spurned her lustful advances. “No one is greater in this house than I am. My master has withheld nothing from me except you, because you are his wife. How could I do such a wicked thing and sin against God?” Joseph protested (Genesis 39:9). Rather than admiring his virtue, the scorned wife falsely accused him of sexual assault and Potiphar had him imprisoned.
“What did I do?!” might have been Joseph’s lament. Sitting in prison, he had ample opportunity to wonder about being wronged for doing right. Ultimately, it became evident God wasn’t at all surprised by the turn of events. The Lord used them to place Joseph into a strategic role as the chief assistant to Pharaoh, the king of Egypt. This set the stage for fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham when He said, “I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars of the sky and as the sand on the seashore” (Genesis 22:17).
Many years later Joseph’s brothers unknowingly came to him looking for help in the face of a growing famine. Rather than seeking vengeance for their betrayal, he embraced them and was able to declare, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives” (Genesis 50:20).
A familiar New Testament verse relates to this. Romans 8:28 states, “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.” Unfortunately, it’s sometimes dispensed as a simplistic platitude to comfort people going through times of serious struggle. Nevertheless, as Joseph learned in Egypt – and as many of us have discovered through our own adversities – it's true.
Do some of your hopes and dreams seem shipwrecked? Have dark times descended that defy explanation? When we encounter such moments in life, we can take heart in knowing the Lord is indeed in control. As He said through the prophet Jeremiah, “For I know the plans I have for you…plans for welfare and not for calamity, to give you a future and a hope” (Jeremiah 29:11).
For all of us who love God and are called according to His purpose, we can trust that even our hard experiences are intended for good. Sometimes we just need 20:20 hindsight to see how.