The Scriptures tell the story of young Joseph, beloved son of his aging father, Jacob.
The godly young man is sold into slavery by his own envious brothers. Reduced to servitude in the house of an Egyptian named Potiphar, Joseph resists the advances of his boss’s wife.
His reason? “How then could I do such a wicked thing and sin against God?” For Joseph, this has everything to do with God, the Savior who has set us free from sin, not to sin. His godly virtue enrages Potiphar’s wife who accuses Joseph of rape. The young man languishes in the dungeon for years, unaware that God will turn it all around in a single day.
How many 17 year old young men would react this way – would cope so well? How many 17 year old young men, betrayed and sold by his own brothers, kidnapped by slave-traders, sold into servitude in a strange land far from home, would function with such a positive attitude? How many instead would use these traumas as a lifelong excuse for bitterly blaming God, going through life with a chip on their shoulder, wiping their feet on God’s commandments because of a rough childhood? How is it that young Joseph remains so godly?
The answer is repeated on the pages of Genesis: “The Lord was with Joseph.” To Joseph, it does not so much matter where he is, but that wherever he is, the Lord is with him.” Immanuel. God with us.
The movie, The Shawshank Redemption, is about a man sent to prison for a murder he never committed. At one point, after spending a good deal of time in the hole – in solitary confinement – the other prisoners ask him how his sanity could withstand being alone so long in the dark and silent hole.
“I wasn’t alone,” he replied. They waited for him to explain. “I had my music.” Again they waited for him to explain. He pointed to his head: “Up here – I had my music.” Something like this, only infinitely more powerful, explains how Joseph not only survived, but flourished amid his trials.
The psalmist said: “I have hidden your Word in my heart that I might not sin against you.” Some of our prisoners of war in North Vietnam did a neat thing years ago. Deprived of the Scriptures in their confinement, they pasted together from memory as much of the Bible as each man could remember. Many of them could do this because they had hidden God’s Word in their hearts from their youth.
On a daily basis, we cannot carry a Bible in hand while operating heavy machinery, driving a tractor or operating on a patient. But we can hide God’s Word in our heart. Remember how your teachers used to tell you to memorize a portion of Scripture or a hymn – not just by head – but by heart?
St. Paul said it: “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly…” If the word of God – His precepts and promises truly believed – do not inhabit your heart – then other, darker tenants move in – obnoxious crack-heads who turn up the stereo and turn the place into the devil’s house of ill-repute. But if you hide God’s law and gospel in your heart, no one can take this away. You take it with you wherever you go, in whatever good or bad circumstances you find yourself. You can take Joseph away from father and home. You can take away his freedom and youthful dreams. You can take away a man’s health. You can take away his job. You can take away his reputation. You can take away every earthly support. But you cannot take away the Word which is hidden, honored, and truly believed in the heart. So said St. Paul: “Your life is now hidden with Christ in God.”