Sheldon Vanauken wrote a book called “A Severe Mercy.” In it, he describes his relationship with his wife, their love for one another, commitment to one another and their coming to saving faith in Jesus. But his wife’s life ended soon after their conversion.
He was angry with God and confused. Why would God do this to him after they committed their lives to Him? It’s a popular question: Why does God allow suffering?
Sheldon was a friend of C.S. Lewis and in an exchange of letters he was describing this pain and confusion. Lewis responded by telling Sheldon that he had been “treated with a severe mercy.” Lewis then explained that it’s possible that the couple had made an idol of their love in the place of their love for Christ, and as an act of His mercy, God removed the idol from Sheldon’s life in order that he might know God’s love more. Sheldon later writes:
“…so full of suffering for us both, suffering that still overwhelmed my life, was yet a severe mercy. A mercy as severe as death, a severity as merciful as love.
— Sheldon Vanauken, A Severe Mercy
What we find in Sheldon’s story and in Joseph’s story in Genesis 37-50 is that it is God’s mercy to believers to humble us in order to make us more like Jesus and more trusting in Him. Joseph was very proud in his teen years. But through a lifetime of suffering and ups and downs, God, in His mercy, brings Joseph to a place of humility. Because of this humility Joseph becomes a picture of what Jesus would one day be like and do for us, but Joseph also displays His trust in God in the midst of His suffering. And Jesus did the same.
it is God’s mercy to believers to humble us in order to make us more like Jesus and more trusting in Him.
Like Joseph, Jesus was abandoned by His own family (“Crucify Him”), sold for silver into enemy hands (Judah/Judas), betrayed by those he helped (the cupbearer forgot/Peter denied), but ends up being exalted to the throne in order to provide salvation for His people and forgiving those who sin against Him. God knows what He’s doing. And even when his mercy is severe, it is still God’s mercy to believers to humble us in order to make us more like Jesus and more trusting in Him.
“Wrong incisions and right incisions are equally painful, but the LORD never makes a wrong incision in the lives of His children. That’s why we should trust the LORD.
— Sinclair Ferguson, 2011 Sermon Series
Like a surgeon, God works with precision and knows what He’s doing, even when it hurts. It is a work of God’s mercy to bring us to a point of humility, that we might trust Him for more of His grace. Often this is painful and severe, but it is a Severe Mercy. God opposes our pride, but shows mercy and gives grace to humble us and cause us to trust Him. This is what we learn from the Life of Joseph.