Sunday, September 25, 2016

Am I In The Place of God?

Late in Genesis chapter 50, there is an exchange between Joseph and his brothers. Before we can get the impact of this exchange, we need to grasp what has gone before. Joseph was Israel's favorite kid because we're told, he was a child of Israel's old age. Israel it seems dotes on the kid to the apparent exclusion of the older brothers. He even gives him a coat (of many colors, or one with long sleeves, although the many colors version is much more picturesque). It seems Joe can't leave well enough alone - we're told that his brothers can't even speak peaceably to him. Joseph gets a reputation for dreams and he has one about sheafs being gathered. You know the story, all the brothers' sheaves bow down around Joe's upright sheaf. Joseph volunteers the interpretation - his brothers will be subject to him.

You can imagine the response this receives from the brothers.

Some time later, Joseph is sent out to his brothers and they see "this dreamer" coming toward them. At first, they want to kill him and blame it on a wild animal. Reuben doesn't want to kill him and comes up with the idea of putting Joe into a pit rather than kill him - with the intent of Reuben coming back later to rescue Joe from the pit. Everybody's happy with that until Judah speaks up and says essentially, "what's in it for us?" Let's sell him to the Ishmaelites and make a little profit. We might still put blood on the famous coat and keep with our story about the wild animal devouring Joe.

So this is what they do - they sell Joseph to a passing caravan of traders of sorts, and stay with putting blood on the coat and the wild animal story. 

Israel is distraught and the brothers try to console him.

As we can tell, not only are these brothers considerably mean - they have taken the prized coat off of Joseph, thrown him into a pit, and finally sold him off into slavery; and then took the coat as evidence for their father that his favorite child was dead - but then they play at consolation. They know Joseph's not dead and yet they let Israel go through the torment of believing he is. These are not stellar fellows.

Then follows some famous stories about Joseph. There are Potiphar's wife, the dream interpretation in jail, and the interpretation of the coming famine. Joseph is promoted to second in the kingdom and responsible for preparing for the coming famine. He will end up storing a considerable amount of food to carry the nation over the seven years of famine. He does this well.

Eventually, Israel dies and the brothers return to Joseph to tell him. They like the Prodigal Son, want some mercy, and like that son they label themselves Joe's servants. They don't dare now claim superiority over this younger brother. They are afraid of what Joseph might do to them and so they carry a message presumed from Israel that Joseph should be gracious to his brothers.

This brings us to the last few lines of chapter 50. Joseph essentially says, don't worry, I'm not God and I forgive you. I'll take care of you and yours because while you meant to harm me, God has worked your deeds to the benefit of many people; many people have been saved.

We get reflections of the Prodigal Son story in the brothers who come and rather than presume a familial tie with this most powerful man, call themselves his servants. Joseph forgives them and in this sense, and despite what he has said, he does stand in the place of God. He can forgive their sin against him, and he does. Who has benefitted from God's working of good from evil? Many people.

Who are these many people? Not just Joseph's family, not just the Jews in captivity, but the entire Egyptian nation and any others who like Joseph's family have come to him for famine relief. God has not just worked good for Joseph through all this, but for people from all over.

We have in this story a shadow of the work of Christ. Christ is rejected and killed by his people. God is in that evil work and draws good from it. As a result of Jesus' willing death, he is elevated to the right hand of God, and people from all over the globe benefit from it. Not just Jews, not just Christians, but all people are welcome to come for rest, for relief, for life. Joseph's story has a myriad of parallels with that of Jesus, it's hard to miss them. Joseph turns out to be type of Christ.

What about you? Are you a type of Christ? Do you want to be? If you have or are going through difficult times of any sort, are you looking to see the good God is working through it? Not just for you, or even primarily for you, but for others? Do you allow God to work through your life and trials to bless other people - even those you don't know or who don't share your faith?

One last observation. That "Am I in the place of God" retort? That sounds like Jesus, doesn't it? But even though both Joseph and Jesus deny being in the place of God as judge, they both have the ability to forgive those who have wronged them. Joseph flatly says he does; Jesus asks forgiveness for us while he hangs on the cross. 

Want to reflect Christ? Forgive those who hurt you.
Who do you need no, who do you want to forgive as Christ forgave you this week?

Do it.

Monday, September 05, 2016

The Big Picture

Love can be commanded, or stated as an expectation for continued relationship. In fact, the covenant with Israel established loving YHWH as a condition for continued blessing. The essence of love however, love the thing we call love, cannot be coerced or manipulated. It cannot be produced as a result of a command. Love, to be love, must be freely given. Ultimately, loving someone "because you have to" is nonsensical.

The ultimate desire or intent of God is what it always has been. That is, a community of voluntary, self-denying lovers, with God in their midst as the chief lover, the life giver, the sustainer.

YHWH has demonstrated a desire that the people he blesses (but more importantly and by extension the people he has created) should both acknowledge his graciousness toward them, and use that divine grace as a model for their own lives. The location of this community (earth or Heaven) is irrelevant because the expectation is the same - an expression of the economy of God. We aren't waiting for Heaven to pull this together - it's supposed to be reality now, just as it is in Heaven.

Reconciliation or redemption (salvation) is not primarily about sin or damnation. It is rather, about restoring the object of the redemption to a previous state. That is accomplished by the gracious, unforced act of God. Having been restored or redeemed, or saved, the expectation remains as it always has - gratitude toward the redeemer, and a life modeled on the redeemer's life. Forgiveness of sins is a consequence, not a prerequisite for salvation and no longer being damned.

The cosmic redeemer says, "I have set things right, come back to me." As has been demonstrated through Scripture, life with God then becomes an open question for those who have been redeemed or reconciled to God. Deuteronomy 30 and Jeremiah 18 provide two examples of God's urging people to remain faithful to him and live in the world of his blessing. The relationship they have with YHWH exists because he wants it to exist, but they have the opportunity to reject the relationship. Similarly, we can accept the reality of redemption and reconciliation, or we can reject it. If we reject it, we separate ourselves from God and his life. There are natural consequences to choosing to not live with God, but they remain the result of our choice, not an imposition by God.

Why would God want you to live with him, as a cosmic lover yourself? Well it seems there are two interconnected reasons:

That is the best sort of life for any sentient being, and
That is the purpose and design for which you have been made. To become such a lover is to become most fully your true self.

God has created people in his image. We have, as our core values, desires, wants, drives, and ultimate satisfaction, to live as God lives - in his character; reflections or icons of God himself. Sin, at its basic level, is not behavior, but character fault. Sin is a failure to live as love itself. In Scripture, we can be both saved from our sins (having God reconcile us to him) and saved from sin (returning to live as the image of God we are).

This is the offer of God - return to me and live the most satisfying life possible for you. Salvation isn't primarily about sin, but being restored to real, full life. That life is the ultimate life for which you are made and is lived with the same characteristics as the very life of God. It is simply, the most natural for you and is the purpose or telos of your creation.

The ball's in your court.

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