You Meant Me Harm


At the end of the Joseph narrative, his brothers send a message
Repenting of selling him to the Egyptians when he was a boy.
Now, as we study the story, we realize both the brothers and Joseph made mistakes.
But Joseph grew up in the Lord and had seen many things God did.
And by the time their father died, had a new understanding of things.

So when the brothers threw themselves at his feet in repentance,
He replies: You meant me harm, but God had other plans.
Because of the way you treated me,
My life has been good, and God has used me to save your lives, and many others.
So, who am I to not forgive you?

And I took heart.
Right now in our world, there is an upswing of people vocally wishing religion would go away.
They claim religion is the root of all the troubles in the world.
It causes intolerance, conflict, and all the bad feelings between people.
And in my part of the world, Christianity is being singled out.

When people accuse the Bible of being irrelevant,
Of putting down women, of touting violence, of preaching intolerance,
Of, because of the framework of a totally non-urban society,
It can no longer speak to us as a post-modern, sophisticated culture.
They seek reasons to harm my faith and excuse themselves from needing God’s presence.

The scorn hurts.
But their logic sometimes pulls at me.
I wonder about my presuppositions of the existence of a loving God
Upon which I build my framework of belief.
Sometimes I wonder “What if ….”

But God has other plans.
And in my searching, I have come to know God in a new, different,
Unfearful way not possible before I doubted.
And I am able to throw away some ideas built on the old cultural models,
While confirming the principles God is trying to teach through the Bible.

I have come to know religion is often used as the framework
Upon which to hang and justify our own agendas.
Religion is so personal, so experiential
No one can question my actions
If “God told me to do this” is my only defense.

I have come to know it’s not religion that causes all things bad between people.
But people cause them, acting out their own hate, fears and worries
In the name of belief or because they have been taught, and don’t question.
And if they don’t use religion, they’ll hide behind other causes.
They will find other ways to cause division, strife and social intolerance.

I have come to know God is so beyond my understanding, so Other, so big,
Any way I speak of God has to be symbolic:
A result of frustratingly trying to grasp enough of that great truth
To apply it to who I am and my search to find a better way.
And the symbols that touch me may be irrelevant to another.

I find because God chose a culture to begin with that I haven’t experienced
Doesn’t make the message untrue.
So I study, research, find out about the original culture,
Just like any contemporary scientist would do,
And I find the message stands up, even after stripping the ancient customs from it.

I find I’m no longer afraid of new symbols.
I find I’m no longer fearful of people whose experience with God
Doesn’t look like mine, or sound like mine, but resound with the same truth.
I find a confidence that God transcends culture.
And Jesus as God’s son is still God’s representative to clear the way for my relationship with God.

I find sometimes my ministry doesn’t look like it should in other people’s eyes.
That sometime I’m merely the seed planter.
Helping people understand some the things I’ve learned along the way.
Helping them out of their intellectual ruts of objections.
Giving them permission to search for Jesus and God outside ancient symbolic baggage.

I found in my search to keep my belief intact
A new richness in understanding that God Is.
God is beyond our boxes, our denominations, our theological systems,
Our set in stone ideas of who He is, how He should work, and what works in ministry.

Yet I have come to know we need them.
How else are we going to find a way to put God into words?
How else are we going to find community, new ideas?
How else are we going to find meaningful frameworks?
We are human: we need to understand the way God chose to show Himself to us.

Otherwise we simply cannot narrow the concept of God down enough:
To know God’s essence is love, and His love for us,
To know the principle of finding ourselves through giving ourselves away,
To understand commitment to a living God, greater, stronger, wiser than me
Results in a freedom not possible through merely satisfying my own greed and needs.

I have come to know I can question man created religion and ideas
Without violating my relationship with God.
I have come to know that relationship with God
Is often separate from my relationship with religion.
And the relationship with God comes first: defining my work and relationship to religion.

Sometimes I forget that principle and that’s when I doubt:
When the work doesn’t seem to be going anywhere,
When the expression of my talents doesn’t seem to be what others value,
When others insist results will come if I follow their formulae,
And I don’t know how to follow that formulae.

And then God does something only He can do.
He supplies a job just days after we knew one was needed, before needs get acute.
He sends the right person to say just the right thing.
He gives opportunities never dreamed of, even if they don’t match other people’s success scale.
He finds ways to assure me I’m on the right track, at the right place for now.

The world has changed, but people’s arrogant nature has remained the same:
We are more vocal, more demanding, we microscope everything and everyone, I am in charge,
We let our emotions rule, or our intellect rule, and have trouble connecting the two,
We are compartmentalized, and insist everything fit into our compartments, we are greedy.
Yet we insist we don’t need God or any belief system that asks for personal commitment.

In our denial, we either find substitutes for God, or tear down that which dares tell us different.
But God has other plans.
He plans to always be present, to still love me, to help me in my doubt.
He plans to keep revealing Himself to me through Jesus, other people, study, my service to others,
And He plans good for me, no matter who plans otherwise.

Genesis 50:19-21
But Joseph said to them, “Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God? You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. So then, don’t be afraid. I will provide for you and your children.” And he reassured them and spoke kindly to them.

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