Yet the chief cupbearer did not remember Joseph, but forgot him.”
Genesis 40 ends on a disappointing note. In this chapter, Joseph was in prison, having been unfairly accused and incarcerated. Yet, when Pharaoh’s chief cupbearer joined Joseph there and Joseph correctly interpreted the cupbearer’s dream, Joseph had high hopes that the cupbearer would intercede on his behalf with Pharaoh. Perhaps his time in prison would soon be over!
Psalm 77 invites us to be completely honest with God about our true thoughts and feelings when we are disappointed, even disappointed in God.”
Yet Joseph’s hopes were dashed on the rocks of reality. The cupbearer, once again an intimate servant of Pharaoh, forgot Joseph and did not mention him to the king (40:23). Nobody would have delivered this bad news to Joseph, but, after many days hoping for a just release, he surely realized that he had been forgotten. It’s not hard to imagine how disappointed Joseph must have been. Now what hope did he have of being set free from prison? To make matters even worse, the next verse mentions the passing of two years (41:1). After believing that he might have been released from prison any day, Joseph spent two more years there before something happened to deliver him. Of course, we know what’s coming. But Joseph didn’t at the time.
Genesis doesn’t tell us how Joseph dealt with his disappointment. The story leads us to believe that Joseph continued on much as he had done before, faithfully managing the prison, serving both the prisoners and the chief jailer (38:21-23). We are not told, however, how Joseph felt or how he prayed during this time.
The Psalms give us plenty of examples of people dealing with disappointment. Take Psalm 77, for example. In this psalm, the writer cries out to God in his day of trouble (77:1-2). When he thinks of God, he moans and meditates (77:3). He wonders if God has abandoned him forever (77:7-9). So, in Psalm 77, the psalmist deals with disappointment by being honest with himself and even with God. There is no denial or pretending, but an open statement of the truth.
However, the second half of Psalm 77 takes a different turn. Here, after admitting his discouragement and even questioning God’s goodness, the psalm writer “call[s] to mind the deeds of the Lord” (77:11). He remembers God’s awesome wonders, most of all God’s deliverance of his people from Egypt by guiding them through the Red Sea (77:16-20). Psalm 77 does not end with a statement of resolution. Rather, we are left in the emotional tension of the psalmist, who is still in the midst of painful disappointment in God even as he remembers God’s amazing goodness.
What does all of this suggest to us when we face disappointment in life, including disappointment with God? Psalm 77 invites us to be completely honest with God about our true thoughts and feelings. We can even feel free to ask bold questions about God’s own character. Yet, this psalm also models the discipline of remembrance. In our down times, we remember God’s goodness in the past. Yes, we might recall the Exodus, like Psalm 77. But, most of all, we focus on God’s grace through the cross. The one who saved us in the biggest possible way through Jesus will indeed save us again from that which distresses us.
With this confidence, then, like Joseph, we get back to work, trusting God with what will happen to us in the future.
QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER:
Can you think of times in your life when you have been deeply disappointed? What did you do with your feelings? Were you able to share them openly with God?
What difference does God’s gracious salvation through Christ make in your everyday life? In your work?
Gracious God, thank you for being with us in all of life, including our major disappointments. Thank you for being available to us, for hearing our honest prayers, even when we question you and your goodness. Thank you for showing your grace to us in so many ways, most of all in the cross.
Help me, Lord, when we are disappointed, to bring our disappointment to you. By your Spirit, draw us near to your reassuring presence. Remind us of your goodness in the past. Strengthen us to trust you and remain faithful in our service to you and others. Amen.