The Faith Path We Prefer
Most religions, churches and or would-be spiritual guides seem to offer a scenario like this:
I want to encourage you or convince you to chose to follow our way of thinking, living, believing, etc. If you do so you will be rewarded with the kinds of things you and most everyone wants and likes
- Success in what you chose
- Power, beauty, strength,
- Comfort, Security,
- Vindication for your ideas and your tribe
- This will continue forever into eternal joy and bliss.
What We Get
If you read the book of Genesis you might notice just how hard things are for Jacob and his family.
- Jacob is indeed blessed with a large family but it is enormously dysfunctional
- His sons are liars and murders who would sell their own flesh and blood into slavery and lie to cover it up. The favoritism and the cover-up will bind the family decades.
- For all Jacob’s faith and promises he has diminished to be an old man clutching to his favoritism and his sons have been bound by their lies to embrace their father’s demeaning favoritism and even protect it.
- When a famine brings his family to the point of starvation a nosy and mysteriously perceptive Egyptian potentate has given them a temporary reprieve from starvation but demands that the most cherished son of Jacob’s obsessive favoritism must be put at risk for the family to survive. This sounds terribly like grandfather Abraham and that bizarre episode on Mt. Moria with father Isaac.
Judah Steps Up
Judah was always a leader. When Jacob’s sons who were not from his favorite wife Rachel plotted to throw Joseph into the cistern he convinced his brothers to sell him into slavery, blocking Reuben from saving him later. Judah was also the father who refused to make good with Tamar and was eventually tricked by her and found the strength to admit his wrong doing and vindicate her.
As Jacob descends into his usual litany of self-pity and despondency Judah steps up and reminds Jacob of their situation. Not only will Jacob lose Benjamin if he continues to fail to lead his family he will lose them all. The time has come for Jacob to have faith in El Shaddai, the LORD Almighty once more, the God who appeared to him, spoke to him, wrestled with him, rescued him. Jacob must act like he believes that his life is in God’s hands and not his own in order for him to act and it is Judah who calls him to this.
When Reuben tried to console and bargain with Jacob after receiving the first shipment of grain Reuben foolishly barters his two sons, who are of course also Jacob’s grandsons, as security for the safety of Benjamin. Jacob won’t bite.
Now Judah steps up with a new bargain, his life for Benjamin’s. What is Judah saying? “Your wellbeing and the wellbeing of your beloved son, at my expense.” Judah has learned what it means to be a leader. Judah has learned what it costs to be a savior.
Israel and El Shaddai
When Abram is renamed to Abraham the text of Genesis consistently reflects the name chance. Isaac is not renamed since he was named by God already. Jacob of course is renamed after wrestling with God at the Jabbok but the text regularly calls him “Jacob” rather than Israel. What we have in chapter 43 is yet another defining moment in Jacob’s life, and the text begins to use Israel once more, as he emerges from his faithless, fearful despondence and begins to once again, as a very old man now, embrace faith in the God who covenanted with him decades before.
Genesis 43:11–14 (LEB)
11 Then their father Israel said to them, “If it must be so then do this. Take some of the best products of the land in your bags and take them down to the man as a gift—a little balm and honey, aromatic gum and myrrh, and pistachios and almonds. 12 And take double the money with you. Take back with you the money that was returned in the mouth of your sacks. Perhaps it was a mistake. 13 And take your brother. Now arise and return to the man. 14 And may El-Shaddai grant you compassion before the man that he may release your other brother to you and Benjamin. As for me, if I am bereaved, I am bereaved.”
Faith and Action
Sometimes it seems like faith is about inaction, that faith is a refusal to take action or make decisions. This is not not faith, although the faithful may in fact decide to not do anything if they believe that is what God is calling for. Jacob is paralyzed by his fear and his faith won’t free him to act as he should
Faith often requires us to act in faithfulness even if we fear the consequences that seem inevitable to us. In order to do this Israel must leverage his knowledge of El Shaddai’s faithfulness to him in the past to give him hope that there might be deliverance in the future. Israel must resign himself to the care of God, whatever the outcome.
We actually see this pattern repeated by God’s imperfect servants again and again in the Bible. David and Jonathan do this. Samson does this. They are backed into a corner and the only viable option to move forward is to simply hope for Yhwh to deliver them as they do what seems best.
Joseph now has the brothers exactly where he wants them. He sets them up first with mercy and kindness, inviting them to his house for a special feast and then gets drunk with them. (Yes that’s right boys and girls, the Bible says they all got DRUNK!) Then he once again engineers the bag trick on them (you’d think they’d check the bags before they leave after what he pulled on them the first time) only to catch them in their words and seemingly put Benjamin in peril.
Joseph’s preoccupation is of course the question of whether anything has changed with his brothers. Will Judah simply leave Benjamin, his brother from a different mother out to dry? Has God been working beyond what he can control and see?
Judah has changed. God has been working. Judah will now offer his own life in exchange for that of Benjamin and the wellbeing of his father Israel. Judah, the one who sold Joseph into slavery is willing to lay down his life for the one who in the Jacob family cold war is his enemy.
The Shape of Christian Faith
Israel will have to risk his beloved son for his family to be saved. Judah will have to lay down his own life for his rival brother to be saved.
Judah who to save his pride sold the first rival brother to what he would assume would be the grave, now must embrace what he would imagine would be his grave to save his rival.
For Israel’s family to be healed, Judah would need to change. For Joseph to know Judah’s change, Judah would have to place his life in Joseph’s hands. Once Joseph would see Judah’s heart, the rest would follow.
Joseph would have to forgive Judah, but how could he know that Judah was truly penitent if Joseph simply reveals himself? With Judah’s sacrificial decision, the family can be restored.
Imagined Ease of the Faith Path We Imagine
We being small and God being large, we imagine our rescue would cost God nothing. We imagine that forgiveness can simply come with a decision, and that heinous acts and costly choices can just be simply forgotten. We imagine this of God, but we immediately realize it isn’t true of us.
Is our destruction of the planet simply a misunderstanding? Are the tears of the broken, betrayed and violated of humanity simply dismissed as “bad choices”? Can the sum of human suffering and loss simply be dismissed as an unfortunate turn of events and no one held accountable? We don’t treat each other this way and we don’t stand for being treated this way, yet we presume to foist this on God. This very idea reveals how our hearts are.
Imagining this would be like saying to Joseph “Forget the past and let us in!”
It reflects a spirit of entitlement, and in doesn’t honor the depth of the betrayal perpetrated against Joseph. It does not address the rupture in the family nor Joseph’s valid claim for restitution against Judah, one that Judah actually has no capacity to resolve. The family cannot be restored, the brother cannot be let out of the bondage to the lie, each generation will be crippled, unless the wound is addressed.
We know this to be true in every other relationship. Why would it not be true of our relationship with our maker?
For Judah to live Joseph must forgive, but Joseph must know if Judah is ready to be true family, the way family is supposed to be.
Hymns and Hymnals
The PCUSA made the news yesterday for cutting “In Christ Alone” from their new hymnal. They authors of the son refused to sanction removing the phrase “the wrath of God was satisfied”. Rob Bell made a similar move in 2007. Is it because God has no right to be angry over what we’ve done to his planet or his people? How can we in good conscience look at this world, seeing what we have done with it and then imagine a good God would not be rightly furious about what we’ve done with it, to it, and to each other.
Christianity claims that a son of Judah, although unlike his ancestor who was guilty, stepped into our mess to offer himself for our rescue. Unlike Benjamin who stole no cup, we were the ones who did what we’ve done to this world and to each other.
The Path of Genuine Reconciliation
- We fully face what we have done and what it has cost God and everyone around us.
- We recognize that this debt is beyond what we can manage, but that God in his mercy has given us a brother who will step in and make restitution for what we cannot. He does this freely out of love and by this act of self sacrifice we are free.
- Now that we are free, unlike the pattern we have displayed in the past, we wish to freely honor, love and follow our brother who showed us the way to heal our broken community. Even though all our attempts to do so are limited and inept, in time the family is knit back together with tearful forgiveness, and the intended love and community begins to form around us.