Sometimes it takes a bit of time before we can tell if an event will turn out to be good or bad for us.
Take the famous Chinese proverb about Sai Weng losing his horse. The story goes like this:
Sai Weng, a old farmer, raised horses for a living. One day, his prized stallion ran away. His neighbours comforted him in his misfortune by saying, “What terrible luck!”
Sai Weng merely replied, “Maybe so, maybe not. We’ll see.”
Later, the stallion returned, bringing with it several wild mares. The farmer’s neighbours congratulated him on his good fortune: “What wonderful luck!”
Again, Sai Weng only said, “Maybe so, maybe not. We’ll see.”
One day, Sai Weng’s son tried to ride one of the new mares, but was thrown off and broke his leg. The neighbours again commiserated with the farmer, saying, “What bad luck!”
Sai Weng once again replied, “Maybe so, maybe not. We’ll see.”
Later, soldiers from the national army came through town, conscripting all able-bodied men for service in the war. The farmer’s son was spared, however, because he was still recovering from his broken leg. The neighbours said, “What great luck!”
Sai Weng simply said with a smile, “We’ll see.”
We often can’t judge whether an event in an of itself is fortunate or unfortunate. Sometimes only time will tell the whole story.
This is especially true when God is working behind the scenes of our lives, fashioning seemingly random events to conform to His purposes. God is often playing a “long game,” as it were: in the end, individual events that we might view as bad actually turn out to be good.
Take the story of Joseph in the Old Testament.
Joseph was favoured by his father Jacob over his brothers: he was even given a magnificent coat. This might seem like a good thing, but it made his brothers jealous of him.
One day, their rage against Joseph boiled over to the point that they were going to kill him. Instead, they sold him into slavery, and Joseph ended up in a foreign land.
What awful misfortune for Joseph! But let’s wait and see: the story isn’t over yet.
While in Egypt, Joseph worked as a servant for an official named Potiphar. Joseph became a trusted right-hand man to Potiphar, enjoying a certain amount of success and prestige in his position.
Sounds like good news, doesn’t it? Maybe so, maybe not.
Potiphar’s wife soon took notice of the handsome young Joseph, and wanted to have an affair with him. When Joseph refused to engage in sin with her, she trumped up false charges against him, and Joseph ended up in jail.
This is a terrible injustice! Surely nothing good can come from this? We’ll see.
While in jail, Joseph again found favour and became a trusted manager. He was able to correctly interpret the dreams of several other prisoners, and asked one of them to put in a good word for him with Pharaoh.
Things are looking up for Joseph, it seems. There’s a chance he’ll be released from jail. Wouldn’t that be a good thing at this point? Maybe, maybe not.
Joseph languished in jail for two more years. Then, Pharaoh had some puzzling dreams that none of his advisors were able to figure out. One of the former prisoners told Pharaoh about Joseph and his God-given ability to interpret dreams. Joseph was quickly sprung from jail and brought before Pharaoh, where he informed him that the dreams indicated seven years of plenty in the land, followed by seven years of crushing famine.
Pharaoh was so impressed with Joseph that he put him in charge of organizing the country’s collection of grain and subsequent famine relief efforts. Joseph essentially became prime minister of Egypt.
Not only that, when his brothers travelled to Egypt to buy grain during the famine, Joseph was able to provide for his family and to reconcile with his brothers.
He told them, “God sent me ahead of you to preserve life… It wasn’t you who sent me here, but God.” (Genesis 45:5,8) “You meant it for evil, but God meant it for good, that many people should be kept alive.” (Genesis 50:20)
Joseph recognized that the negative events in his life were all intended by God to bring him to the position of prime minister of Egypt. So in fact they were a series of fortunate events, despite seeming unfortunate at the time.
Do you have events in your life that don’t seem to make sense right now? Give it some time—God may be weaving together some negative things to bring about something wonderful.
When asking yourself whether an event is good or bad, sometimes the only answer is: We’ll see!
© 2021 Lori J. Cartmell. All rights reserved.