Jacob’s death revives fears among his sons that Joseph will retaliate because of their cruelty towards him (Gen. 50:15). Although Joseph already reassured them he held no grudge, they don’t yet trust this. Once again, they appeal to Joseph for mercy (Gen. 50:16-18). Joseph replies, “Am I in the place of God? You planned evil against me; God planned it for good to bring about the present result—the survival of many people. Therefore don’t be afraid. I will take care of you and your little ones” (Gen. 50:19-21).
Joseph’s response raises questions. Is all well that ends well? Do the ends justify the means in God’s economy? Was Joseph’s suffering only redeemed because it turned out well? Or does suffering have value in itself?
Jesus is the key to these questions. Joseph prefigured Jesus in the way his suffering and promotion saved many. Did Christ’s suffering have value in itself? Or were His sufferings and death only valuable because they secured salvation for people? Consider what Jesus said to His disciples: “Love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, that someone would lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:12-13).
The Lord’s command is that we love one another as He loved us—by giving up His life. Sacrifice is more than physical death, as Paul points out when he tells us to bear with each other and forgive as the Lord forgave (Col. 3:13). Jesus did not tell us to love one another because of what we would accomplish. We are not told to lay down our lives because of the good that will result. We are merely told to lay down our lives because there is no greater love. This love is valuable in itself, more precious than silver or gold, as Peter points out (1 Peter 1:18-19).
Suffering out of love needs no further justification; it is an end in itself; it is valuable in itself. That said, we believe in a God of death and resurrection. Suffering and death was not the end for Jesus. He rose. In the divine economy, there is no suffering and death except that leads to resurrection.