A Walk With Joseph

Faith in the year 2000 will be very much like faith in the year 1999. It’s a progressive walk with our God as we personally understand and conceptualize Him or Her. One man’s walk with God is worth examining as it parallels our own complexities as gay Christians. Let’s look at Joseph of Genesis 37- 45.

Joseph was obviously his father’s favorite. He had many brothers and sisters, but it was for Joseph that the multi-colored coat was made that was the final straw for jealous siblings. Joseph was the youngest and obviously a little pampered. The Bible portrays him as naive, boastful, arrogant and insensitive. He told his brothers of his dreams to rule over them. He tattled on his brothers to his father and generally was an annoying child. His brothers were not to happy with him and on their last trip together they tossed him into a well, originally planning to kill him. When they saw a caravan passing by they sold him to the caravan as a slave. He was 17. They lied to their father and told him that Joseph had been eaten by wild animals.

This must have been quite a shock to Joseph. In his own privileged position and the arrogance that went with that, he probably didn’t even know the seriousness of the anger toward him from his brothers. One day he was the apple of his father’s eye, the next day he was on his own, abandoned, with no rights, no money, no friends, going to a strange world where they didn’t even speak the same language. Betrayed by his own brothers who should have protected him. He was actually sold twice, and ended up in Egypt.

The Bible leaves out a lot when it comes to the emotional content of Joseph’s life. We can only imagine, from our own experiences, how terrified he must have been. Perhaps he had been physically hurt when he was thrown in the well. Perhaps he was abused by his captors. His arrogance more then likely did not diminish overnight and I would imagine that learning when to keep his mouth shut was probably a difficult lesson for him. We don’t know if Joseph suddenly prayed to God to save him, or if he had been consistently spiritual in his younger years. What we know is that he was Hebrew but the Bible doesn’t tell us much else. However, we do know that God’s hand was on him and God blessed him in every situation that he got into.

Joseph was sold in Egypt to Potiphar. He lived well and Joseph was blessed. Joseph’s blessings extended to Potiphar’s household. All went well until Potiphar’s wife noticed this beautiful young man and tried to seduce him. He didn’t want to mess up his living arrangements again — so he declined. She was angry at his rejection and told her husband that he had raped her. Even when Joseph tried to be good, it didn’t seem to work for him. Potiphar was angry, believing his wife, and threw Joseph in jail. This young man’s life began to resemble a roller coaster with all the ups and downs! Again, he had to start over. This time because of a false accusation! This time in jail. How many times have we, as gay and lesbian Christians been tossed out, or wrongfully accused, or portrayed falsely by our straight brothers and sisters in Christ? How many churches have we been kicked out of because we’re gay? Maybe we got a little arrogant or angry at all the misinterpretations and lies that were directed toward us. Was Joseph angry?

Was he resigned to the fact that his life seemed to be a mess! Did he cry, did he scream, did he shake his fist at God saying, “Why me?” Or was he confident that God would take care of him? Did he know the holy writings of the day? Had he studied them? Did he know that God had promised to take care of anyone who had been abandoned by their family in Psalm 27:10:

“When Mother and Father forsake you, then God will take care of you.”

The Bible doesn’t answer these questions. Perhaps the Bible is silent so that we can see more of ourselves, and our situations, in the character of Joseph. God was taking care of him in a dramatic way. His new home was the jail. He spent many years there. The Bible doesn’t say exactly how many. It only says that he went in a beautiful young man and came out a mature man who could interpret dreams. God continued to bless him and pretty soon he became the equivalent of a “trustee”, helping to run the jail. Two of the King’s officers were put in prison with him. Joseph interpreted their dreams and when the one was returned to the King, he forgot Joseph’s request to tell the King of his gift. Two more years went by until one night the King had a dream and needed an interpreter. Only then did the man remember Joseph and sent for him. Joseph interpreted the dream and advised the King to stockpile food as a famine was coming in 7 years. The King was impressed and he put Joseph in charge of the palace as Governor! From prison keeper to palace Governor in 24 hours! The roller coaster hadn’t stopped, it had just come to a rest.

Some life lessons are only learned through trials. Much like David who hid in the wilderness while he was running from Saul for many years (I Sam. 23), and Moses who spent 40 years in the wilderness preparing for his ministry (Exodus 2 and Acts 7:30) and Jesus who spent 40 days in the wilderness preparing for his ministry (Matt. 4). There are life lessons that can only be taught through hardship. Charles Durham writes in Temptation: Help for Struggling Christians:

“Often God lets us struggle rather then stepping in like a big brother to do our fighting . . . . As we struggle, becoming exhausted almost beyond endurance, changes occur in us which could not have happened otherwise.”

Joseph stocked up the food and seemed to be enjoying his new position. That’s when it happened. Guess who came to buy some food? His brothers! Part of Joseph’s job was to decide who could buy food and who couldn’t – he’s the #2 guy in Egypt. Now his brothers didn’t recognize him. He was older, dressed in the Egyptian style that reflected his office and he spoke a different language. Besides, if they even thought about their brother at all, they probably thought of him as some slave in a far off land toiling and having a miserable existence.

So now Joseph was presented with an ethical and moral dilemma. The ones who have hurt him the most now need his help. How would he react? Revenge is sweet – can’t you just sense it? But part of the life lesson that we’ve been taught is that revenge belongs only to God. We are to show grace and the love of God to those who have hurt us. And you just know that this has to be a test. At first Joseph was rude to them! And before he gave them the obligatory forgiveness, he decided to play with them a little, much like a cat plays with a mouse. He accused them of being spies and tossed them in jail for 3 days. Then he let them out and told them to go get their youngest brother (who had stayed home) and come back. He kept one of the older brothers in jail to make sure they return. The brothers, with guilty consciences, discussed it and decided that their misfortune is pay back for what they did to Joseph years ago – bad karma coming back to haunt them. Joseph ordered that they may buy food and then put the money they bought it with, back in their bags with the grain. They returned to their father, discovered the money and didn’t know what to think. The father refused to send the youngest brother, Benjamin, back. He didn’t want to lose another baby, so he let the older brother stay in jail. [Sounds like dad still played favorites with his boys.] They did not to Egypt for quite some time. Finally, when they once again run out of food, they had to go back. So the father reluctantly sent Benjamin along. When they got close, Joseph was told of their return and he ordered a large feast to be prepared. They ate and visited, and again Joseph ordered their bags filled with grain and the money they had paid for it with. But this time he also told his servants to put a silver cup in their bag. After they left the palace, he sent his soldiers after them to arrest them for stealing. Joseph’s plan was to keep the youngest brother Benjamin and send the others back to get his father. However, one of the older brothers begged Joseph not to keep Benjamin, because after the loss of their younger brother Joseph, he feared another loss of the now youngest brother would probably kill his father. Joseph was touched by his impassioned plea and he revealed to his brothers who he really was. At this point, the brothers were seriously afraid of Joseph and probably thought he was nuts. It took some convincing but the brothers finally relaxed with it. He told them to go home, get dad and their families and come back to Egypt to live. Of course, dad didn’t believe it when they got home and the boys had to come clean and tell dad the truth about selling Joseph into slavery. The entire clan moved to Egypt and began what was originally a peaceful coexistence with the Egyptian people. Later that changed and it took Moses to get them out of Egypt. But that’s a different story.

What a tale of mistreatment, intrigue, revenge, and forgiveness! Is this tale literally true? It doesn’t matter if it is or not. It’s a story of abandonment, God’s grace and adoption, ultimate forgiveness and the healing of a very dysfunctional family.

What would we do as gay Christians if the pastor or parents, or siblings who kicked us out of our homes or churches came to us years later for something critical like food or shelter or money? Could we do what Joseph did? It’s a whopper of a moral dilemma. I am personally glad that Joseph showed his human side by toying with his brothers for a while before he forgave them.

We, as gay and lesbian Christians have been abandoned. Abandoned by the churches that baptized us and promised us acceptance as brothers and sisters in Christ. Abandoned by our genetic families that promised to love us and take care of us, no matter what. Many of us have been abused by the straight churches through false accusations of something ridiculous, just to get rid of us because we’re gay. Many of us have been humiliated by our families or churches trying to shame us into being straight or exorcise the gay demons out of us. Many of us have been abused by ex – gay type programs with false promises of “normalcy” which only increases the very heavy load of guilt. And, of course the ultimate betrayal is the excommunication/disownership of the family/church. The “you’re dead to us as long as you’re gay,” followed by the ultimate lie that one cannot be gay and Christian. All of this is an elaborate attempt to keep Christianity as a straight private club (before 1865 a white, straight private club). Thank God that we have a parent God that refused to allow these lies to go unchallenged. God doesn’t allow hate in God’s name. God had something to say about all of this and stories such as Joseph and the Prodigal Son speak to our hearts in tones that are louder then the hatred which speaks to our ears. We have a place in God’s family. If our human families don’t want us, that doesn’t mean our Heavenly parent doesn’t want us.

For many of us who have found the truth of God’s love, we now have another step to take in the walk of faith. It’s the step that Joseph took – forgiveness. Forgiveness of those who would have — and in some cases still would — rather see us dead than accepted by any religious denomination. People very much like Joseph’s brothers. If we hold onto our hate, it will destroy our relationship with our parent God of mercy. But how hard it is to forgive people who have sinned against us and hurt us so much as to have altered the entire direction of our lives! But then maybe that’s exactly why these people were sent into our lives. Maybe the altered course is really a blessing that we didn’t recognize. Would Joseph have ever become the Governor of Egypt if his brothers hadn’t sold him into slavery? May God give us the grace and courage of Joseph to meet these challenges in our progressive walk of faith in honesty, with our God.