On November 28, 1965, the fighter plane of Howard Rutledge exploded under enemy fire. He parachuted into the hands of the North Vietnamese Army and was promptly placed in the “Heartbreak Hotel,” one of the prisons in Hanoi.
When the door slammed and the key turned in that rusty, iron lock, a feeling of utter loneliness swept over me. I lay down on that cold cement slab in my 6 × 6 prison. The smell of human excrement burned my nostrils. A rat, large as a small cat, scampered across the slab beside me. The walls and floors and ceilings were caked with filth. Bars covered a tiny window high above the door. I was cold and hungry; my body ached from the swollen joints and sprained muscles . . .
It’s hard to describe what solitary confinement can do to unnerve and defeat a man. You quickly tire of standing up or sitting down, sleeping or being awake. There are no books, no paper or pencils, no magazines or newspapers. The only colors you see are drab gray and dirty brown. Months or years may go by when you don’t see the sunrise or the moon, green grass or flowers. You are locked in, alone and silent in your filthy little cell breathing stale, rotten air and trying to keep your sanity.1
Few of us will ever face the austere conditions of a POW camp. Yet to one degree or another, we all spend time behind bars.
- My e-mail today contains a prayer request for a young mother just diagnosed with lupus. Incarcerated by bad health.
- I had coffee yesterday with a man whose wife battles depression. He feels stuck (chain number one) and guilty for feeling stuck (chain number two).
- After half a century of marriage, a friend’s wife began to lose her memory. He had to take away her car keys so she wouldn’t drive. He has to stay near so she won’t fall. They had hopes of growing old together. They still may, but only one of them will know the day of the week.
Each of these individuals wonders, Where is heaven in this story? Why would God permit such imprisonment? Does this struggle serve any purpose? Joseph surely posed those questions.
If Mrs. Potiphar couldn’t flirt Joseph into her bed, she would force him. She grabbed for his robe, and he let her have it. He chose his character over his coat. When he ran, she concocted a story. When Potiphar came home, she was ready with her lie and Joseph’s coat as proof. Potiphar charged Joseph with sexual assault and locked him in jail. “And [Joseph] was there in the prison. But the LORD was with Joseph and showed him mercy, and He gave him favor in the sight of the keeper of the prison” (Gen. 39:20–21).
Not a prison in the modern sense but a warren of underground, windowless rooms with damp floors, stale food, and bitter water. Guards shoved him into the dungeon and slammed the door. Joseph leaned back against the wall, slid to the floor. “I have done nothing here that they should put me into the dungeon” (40:15).
Joseph had done his best in Potiphar’s house. He had made a fortune for his employer. He had kept his chores done and his room tidy. He had adapted to a new culture. He had resisted the sexual advances. But how was he rewarded? A prison sentence with no hope of parole. Since when does the high road lead over a cliff?
The answer? Ever since the events of Genesis 3, the chapter that documents the entry of evil into the world. Disaster came in the form of Lucifer, the fallen angel. And as long as Satan “prowls around like a roaring lion” (1 Peter 5:8 NIV), he will wreak havoc among God’s people. He will lock preachers, like Paul, in prisons. He will exile pastors, like John, on remote islands. He will afflict the friends of Jesus, like Lazarus, with diseases. But his strategies always backfire. The imprisoned Paul wrote epistles. The banished John saw heaven. The cemetery of Lazarus became a stage upon which Christ performed one of his greatest miracles.
Intended evil becomes ultimate good.
Max Lucado, You’ll Get through This: Hope and Help for Your Turbulent Times (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2013).
We have just released a new Bible Study based on the first five chapters of Max Lucado’s book, You’ll Get Through This. This study is based on the Life of Joseph, up until his promotion.
These lessons are available on Amazon, as well as a part of my Good Questions Have Groups Talking Subscription Service. Like Netflix for Bible Lessons, one low subscription gives you access to all our lessons–thousands of them. For a medium-sized church, lessons are as little as $10 per teacher per year.
You’ll Get Through This, Lesson #1
You’ll Get Through This
You’ll Get Through This, Lesson #2
Down, Down, Down to Egypt
You’ll Get Through This, Lesson #3
Alone, But Not Alone
You’ll Get Through This, Lesson #4
Stupid Won’t Fix Stupid
You’ll Get Through This, Lesson #5
Oh, So This Is Boot Camp