(My homily on Genesis 45)
Last week in Sunday School I said that “all talk of God is metaphorical.” In other words, the perfection of our God is beyond human understanding. So even the most erudite theological declaration needs to be introduced with the words “God is sort of like…”
There are few places where this is more obvious than when we discuss predestination. Last week, I said that God did not make all the bad things happen to Joseph to save Israel. I also said it would have made more sense to just not cause the famine in the first place.
Today, it seems, the Word of God would contradict me…
“Do not be upset,” Joseph, “for what you did to me. God did it to preserve life… It was not you who did it to me but God did it.”
Pretty clear and straight forward, so I need to admit I am wrong and move on, right?
Well, let's read what is there; one thing to note is the source of this declaration. It is not the author of the Genesis account. Nor is it ascribed to God as a verbal revelation or the work of the Holy Spirit. It is Joseph who says it. What we have here is Joseph talking. That is important. Joseph is not speaking as a prophet saying, “Thus says the Lord.” Hence, it is fair to say that Joseph's words might just be his opinion, no different from you or I. [like when people explain why gave someone cancer, or took a loved one, etc.
Clearly a major point in the narrative is the brothers' concern about revenge. Joseph is trying to convince his brothers that he has no ill will against them for their treachery and evil. What he is trying to communicate is his experience; that he has 'seen' God at work in his life, again and again. Joseph is a man of his age. He is not a contemporary theologian weighing the repercussion of his words and struggling to nuance each statement so as to factor in the complexities of Divine activity. Everything we say about God is METAPHORICAL and Joseph is declaring God’s salvation to his brothers in a simplified way. It is true that God did find a way to save His promise people through the twists and turns of Joseph's life. If the ancients used (overly) simple declarative sentences on causation (i.e., that “God did it”) that does not mean that we are freed from pondering the other things the Bible says about human choice and activity. In other words, we have to respect the way they talk (its inherent 'grammar' if you will) without a wooden literalism which oversimplifies what that must mean.
Fundamentally, the question we are confronted with is what kind of world do we live in and what kind of God is our creator? (Remember we can only “kinda” answer the question, it always falls short)
I believe that the heart of the Gospel is “our God saves.” That is literally what Jesus’ name means. If God controls every event, micromanaging each thought and choice of each person, creating every event that occurs, He cannot save. There is no need for salvation or redemption or Divine aid of any sort. IF God is already doing it then things are already fine. How can God help if He is already totally running things?
[In fact, humanly speaking, a God who creates a crisis so that He can then come in and rescue people sounds, metaphorically speaking, something like a mother suffering from Munchausen by proxy. In other words, getting treatment for the problems which He has caused. Now granted, the mystery of God’s activity may in fact make this apparent contradiction possible, but if so, then we best sit back and just do whatever we want to---because God is doing it all anyhow.]
I prefer to start with Romans 8. “if God is for us, who can be against us” gives a starting place. The efforts of others to “do us in” pale in comparison to what God is able to do for us. With that in mind, Paul can say we know that all things work together for good for those who love God. All things does not mean we want bad things, but all things means that if bad things happen God can redeem them and use them for our good and the good of others!
You have suffered a tragic loss of some kind (probably lots of tragic losses, as I preached this word today I was overwhelmed reflecting on the large percent of divorced and widowed faces--and that is just one issue). By the redemptive power of God that loss can become the basis of an effective ministry. Does God cause a tragedy so someone can be supportive of another experiencing a similar tragedy? Perhaps, but I think not. I believe He redeems us from tragedy, brokenness and pain and by His light and love at work in us, and our own conversion and repentance and faith, we become angels of that light, messengers of hope, full of compassion and love to serve others.
In conclusion, let me share what I read in Morning Prayer Thursday which confirmed for me the idea of salvation/redemption being at the heart of the Joseph story (and not Divine puppetry). I had been working on my homily all week, I came in here to pray and reflect. The reading from Acts, a speech of Stephen, was one of the lections. In his discourse, Stephen outlined the history of salvation, looking at key figures from the Bible. First he spoke of Abraham, next Joseph. He said (Acts 7:9):
The patriarchs, jealous of Joseph, sold him into slavery, but God was with him, and rescued him from all his afflictions and enabled him to win favor and wisdom before Pharaoh.”
That word, rescue, will occur again (7:34) in reference to Moses and the Exodus, (the Lord said) “I have surely seen the mistreatment of My people who are in Egypt and have heard their groaning, and I have come down to rescue them” (Exodus is the paradigm of salvation!)
Three other times in Acts it refers to God rescuing Peter from Herod (12:11) and Paul (23:27, 26:17) twice from the Jews. More to the point, it also occurs in Galatians 1:4 (The Lord Jesus Christ, Who rescued us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father). God redeeming, not controlling, God rescuing His people...
So what is the take away?
So what is the take away?
I believe in a God Who sees, Who hears, Who loves and cares.
I believe in a God Who saves, redeems, rescues, renews, and is with His people. He redeems our family life, our work life, our religious life, our recreation--He redeems every aspect of our lives, constantly.
I do not think that everything single thing that happens, especially human sin and evil or natural disasters is “caused by God” but they are used by God.(So rather than ask "Why did God does this to me?" we should often say, instead, "Lord have mercy, save me, redeem this bad thing and use it to transform me and glorify You!"
Like Joseph, we can say, “Whatever harm you did me, look and see what God has done, I can forgive you…” Our God rescues us and because we trust Him we can forgive others and we can face the struggles and challenges of life with hope.