The Pervasive Presence of Pain


Brennan Manning speaks of what it means to have ruthless trust in spite of the presence of pervasive and overwhelmingly negative circumstances when he writes, “On the last day, Jesus will look us over not for medals, diplomas, or honors, but for scars.” In today’s passage, Jacob’s family is not simply hungry—they are starving to death. The circumstances of life have brought them to a place of absolute desperation. 

  • Before we begin, examine your own life. Explore how God has used moments of pain and suffering in your story to bring about his ultimate plan.


1 When Jacob learned that there was grain for sale in Egypt, he said to his sons, “Why do you look at one another?” And he said, “Behold, I have heard that there is grain for sale in Egypt. Go down and buy grain for us there, that we may live and not die.” So ten of Joseph’s brothers went down to buy grain in Egypt. But Jacob did not send Benjamin, Joseph’s brother, with his brothers, for he feared that harm might happen to him. Thus the sons of Israel came to buy among the others who came, for the famine was in the land of Canaan.

English Standard Version, copyright 2001 by Crossway Bibles. Used by permission. All rights reserved.


  1. Looking at verse two, what was at stake for Jacob and his family? 
  2. Why didn’t Jacob send Benjamin with the rest of his sons?
  3. Imagine what it must have been like for Jacob as he thought about the promises of God during these circumstances. He had already suffered the loss of Joseph, his most beloved son. His family was dying of starvation, and he sent ten of his remaining heirs into a potentially hostile situation in Egypt. How would your trust in God have been affected during this time?
  4. How has God used painful circumstances in your life to carry out his plan for you and his Kingdom? 


The closer I get to God, the more mysterious, dangerous, and yet trustworthy he becomes. Admittedly, I have a weak spiritual stomach when I hear the words, “It was God’s will,” uttered during moments of inexplicable pain and tragedy. Cynicism and distrust are hooks only inches away from ensnaring my heart, as I wrestle with the goodness and sovereignty of the God who I claim has dominion over my life. My soul, at times, can be a barren wasteland of confusion, doubt, and despair.

And yet, by the grace and power of the Holy Spirit, I occasionally find the courage to be grateful. As though looking through a lifting fog, I am able to sense in the midst of the pain that God is moving. He is moving his plan, and he is moving me, just as God moved in the midst of the famine in Jacob’s life. God was making a way in and through remarkable struggle. My prayer is that through the study of this passage you would be able to respond to God with a heart of gratitude. 

  • Take some time to thank God for the unanswered prayers of your life. Thank God for the moments of famine in your life. 
  • Marvel at God’s ability to move you and his plan through the muck and mire of this shattered world, for as Manning writes, to do so is to “whisper a doxology in darkness.”