My dear Christopher and I had a discussion on a patristic quote below from St. Cyril in which I posited a distinction that I think it helpful and meaningful. I used it again tonight in teaching the story of Joseph revealing himself to his brothers. I offer it here for consideration.
It is the difference between speaking phenomenologically and speaking theologically. It's really the diff between sight and faith.
To speak phenomenologically is to confess the truth as it appears to us. For example, "the sun rises." Well, not actually we know. But that's what it looks like to us. Similarly, to describe the events of Joseph's life phenomenologically, we'd say:
Joseph's jealous brothers betrayed him, sold him as a slave, handed him over to gross injustice.
That would be true as far as it goes. There's nothing there that's not factual, but it doesn't exhaust, doesn't begin to exhaust the truth. The truth, the theological truth, which Joseph himself confesses is this:
"God sent me before you to preserve life... God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth, and to keep alive many survivors. It was not you who sent me here, but God." (Gen 45:5,7,8)
The very essence of our Lord's cross is captured then in this distinction. Phenomenologically, our Lord was betrayed by Judas, denied by Peter, renounced by His own people, suffered under Pontius Pilate and made to suffer an utterly unjust death. That's what we see. But faith, seeing theologically, sees that what we meant for evil, God meant for good, for the saving of many lives alive.
And St. Paul invites us to step out with this distinction even in our own lives. To know and believe that whatever injustice, hatred, persecution we experience in this life, that through it all "God is working all things together for the good of those who love Him." Romans 8:28
We can live our lives on the phenomenological perspective - and I suspect we'll end up bitter, angry, disillusioned and despairing. Or we live our lives from the theological perspective - and we'll end up a peace that nothing in this world can shake, a peace rooted securely in the God who is expert at the "great reversal" to whom be the glory forever and ever!