Posted by Rev. Daniel Christian on August 26, 2017
I just finished reading Angela Duckworth’s 2016 book, “Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance.” She has some deep and fascinating insights on the keys of individual success and accomplishment. In her book she discusses the “Grit Test” that she created after years of research. I finished her book and I decided to take the test. The “Grit Test” is a window into our own ability to find passion in our life and persevere when we fail or have setbacks. Passion is defined as life purpose and not romantic. The last question on the “Grit Test” asks, “I have overcome setbacks to conquer an important challenge?”
Her question got me thinking and I am reminded of a passage from the Bible that speaks to one’s ability to get back up after being knocked down by life.
In the Old Testament, also called the Hebrew Bible, we uncover many bridges from our ancient ancestors that connect us to our present lives.
In the book of Genesis we meet Joseph. How many remember the play “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dream Coat?” This passage is about a ‘dysfunctional family’ to put it mildly. In this story we are introduced to acts of human evil, jealousy, anger and hate. What is important here is that God is not the architect of the big mess, but God has the capacity to create forgiveness and reconciliation out of the big mess.
The story of Joseph is a complicated family world that is full of painful family divisions, anger, jealousy, secrets, divisive gift giving, shunning and hatred. Does any of this sound at all familiar in our world today? It sounds like “Game of Thrones” or worst yet, the front page news!
However, after reading about Joseph we can take heart and remain hopeful and optimistic. The story as a whole, shines light onto a God who uses the cruel designs of people to bring about good. Hateful acts do not thwart or frustrate divine purpose!
Just as the two lovers in the movie, “The Princess Bride” who say to one another “nothing can stop true love, it might delay it for a little while, but nothing can stop true love.” Not to make light of things here, but in a similar way, nothing can stop God from creating good. Even when we human beings mess things up and delay it for a little while.
What I love about the Joseph story is that everyone in it contributes to the big mess! No one individual is innocent! Even Joseph, he is thrown down a well by his brothers and then sold into slavery. He certainly the primary victim, but he is not innocent, in fact he helps fuel his own problems!
Let’s face it, Joseph is acting like a little spoiled brat and a tattle-tail! He is rubbing his father’s favoritism in his brother’s faces. Jacob, the father, he isn’t innocent. He is the creator of the whole mess! The jealous brothers that hatch plan, well they are not so hot either?
The temptation with this big family mess is to make them all irresponsible and not held to any consequences. Or second it is tempting to make God the master planner of the big mess. By making God all determining and the creator of evil for some later better good encourages human passivity in the face of cruelty. In other words, we are all helpless and can do nothing. That simply is not true.
What is hopeful in the Joseph story and important in our world today is that God works in and through even the worst that this family can create, in everything-even evil-God works for good!Another reason I love this story is that if you have a really difficult family! Hey there is hope!
As readers and listeners to the Joseph story we are permitted to face the power of uncomforted grief. This is what happens to Jacob, the father, when he hears the news of Joseph’s fake death hatched by the plan of angry brothers.
I share this passage not to bum you out or throw your hands up in defeat. I share this to shine light upon a God who is at work when we are betrayed and in the well like Joseph, filled with grief like Jacob, raging with anger and jealousy like the brothers. Even with all of these feelings and many others, God continues to work for the ways of goodness and healing.
Our country and world is changing rapidly. Some of the changes are inspiring, while others are frightening and deeply disturbing. Some days we feel knocked down. With a little bit of grit and God’s grace we can get back up and continue to live into the hope that God is always at work for good, even in the face of forces who seemingly are doing the opposite.
Rev. Daniel Christian is the Pastor at First Presbyterian Church of Ukiah.
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