Dark inscrutable workmanship: a reflection for the third Friday of Lent

Joseph sold by his brothers (Genesis 37), published 1841Joseph sold by his brothers (Genesis 37), published 1841

Editors' note: Every day of Lent Elizabeth Kirkland Cahill will be providing audio reflections on the Psalms of the day as part of America's “The Word” podcast. 

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When the LORD called down a famine on the land and ruined the crop that sustained them/ He sent a man before them, Joseph, sold as a slave. ~Ps 105:16-17

The book assigned for the Bible History course I took in high school was entitled The Book of the Acts of God (or as we referred to it, BAGS). The book is long out of print and its theology perhaps out of fashion, but its underlying premise still resonates: God is at work in the lives of his people.

Our psalm today, excerpted from a longer recital of the wondrous deeds of God in the history of Israel, focuses on the story of Joseph. Most of us remember this riches-to-rags-to-riches narrative from Sunday school: the jealous brothers who sell the favorite son into slavery; Joseph’s success in Egypt, his betrayal by the spurned wife of his master, Potiphar, and his incarceration; his subsequent ascent to become head of Pharaoh’s household on the basis of his ability to interpret dreams. Joseph hardly enjoyed a straightforward or uncomplicated path through life: he was rejected and betrayed, falsely accused and imprisoned, utterly forgotten by those who could have helped him.

We, too, encounter people who ignore us, problems that leave us stymied, dilemmas whose resolution is uncertain. But even when things seem at a standstill and we feel stuck, God is at work in our lives. The British Romantic poet William Wordsworth referred in his poem “The Prelude” to the “dark inscrutable workmanship” that “reconciles discordant elements” even when it cannot be seen or felt. Even when we are unaware of the acts of God, or convinced that God has abandoned us to languish in suffering, He continues to operate in our lives with the ineffable, inscrutable power of his love.

Lord God, whose mystery remains beyond human reach, May I sense your hand at work in my life even when it seems most absent. Amen.

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