How We Fear God’s Love
God has been trying to get one message through to us for our entire lives, L-O-V-E in great big skywriting with the bass pumped up and the speakers on full blast, and we’re so off in our own worlds we never hear this glorious music made of God’s love that forms the very substance of every breath we breathe.
Joseph was in this very situation in our lesson from Genesis today.
He has been through a lot with his brothers.
They were his heroes when he was a little boy running around the sheepfolds.
Then he started to dream.
In his innocence he couldn’t understand why they became angry when he told them his visions of sheaves of grain and the sun, moon, and stars.
His childhood ended the day they left him to die in a pit in the desert and then sold him into slavery with the Ishmaelites.
He started to build a life for himself in Potiphar’s household but then it all came crashing down through no fault of his own and he found himself locked away in jail for two years.
This time he wasn’t the one dreaming.
Joseph found himself gifted with the ability to understand and interpret dreams, and thus was catapulted to the pinnacle of Egyptian society and economic power.
The shepherd boy slave had made it to the top, but awash in the day to day tasks of managing Pharaoh’s enormous empire, the long ago days on Canaan’s hillsides with his father’s sheep were probably very far from his mind.
Until the day a group of starving men stumbled into his court and he saw the haggard, hungry faces that were instantly known to him as his beloved, treacherous brothers.
Joseph remembers his own hungry years of slavery and longs to punish them, but his love keeps overcoming him.
He turns away and weeps when they are about to go back to Canaan, and unknown to his brothers, he gives them all the grain they thought they bought for free, secretly returning their money to their sacks.
The brothers return, hungry again, this time with the only one younger than Joseph, his baby brother Benjamin.
They come into the court, and Genesis says, “then Joseph looked up and saw his brother Benjamin, his mother’s son, and said, ‘Is this your youngest brother, of whom you spoke to me? God be gracious to you, my son!’ With that, Joseph hurried out, because he was overcome with affection for his brother, and he was about to weep. So he went into a private room and wept there. Then he washed his face and came out; and controlling himself he said, ‘Serve the meal.’”
How different his brothers seem from his memory of them as a child! Then they were commanding and powerful.
Now their clothes hang on their hunger-weakened bodies, and their eyes are lined with worry and fatigue.
They are so subservient to him, desperate to be humble enough servants of the great Egyptian lord that he will grant them food to take home to their families.
Rather than the satisfaction he expects to feel, Joseph aches with grief.
He cannot bear to part with Benjamin at all, and so he hides his silver cup in Benjamin’s sack so there will be a pretext to keep Benjamin in Egypt.
The brothers beg for mercy, telling Joseph that their father has already lost one son and the loss of this, the youngest, will surely kill him.
And Joseph can bear it no longer.
He reveals himself to them with words of love and forgiveness, “I am your brother, Joseph, whom you sold into Egypt. And now do not be distressed, or angry with yourselves because you sold me here; for God sent me before you to preserve life.”
Joseph brings the whole family to Egypt and settles them on the richest land of the empire. Jacob is able to die in peace, his family reunited at last, and this is where we are in our passage from Genesis today.
But Joseph’s brothers have been unable to enjoy these last happy years. They are unable to believe in Joseph’s forgiveness and love for two reasons.
They cannot believe it because they do not believe they are worthy of it, and because they have never offered such forgiveness and love so freely to another themselves.
Still they cringe and bow before Joseph, making up a story that Jacob’s last wish was for Joseph to forgive them for their crime.
Again the Bible says, “Joseph wept when they spoke to him. Then his brothers also wept, fell down before him, and said, ‘We are here as your slaves.’ But Joseph said to them, ‘Do not be afraid!…Have no fear; I myself will provide for you and your little ones.’”
Fear and guilt are at eternal war with love.
We so fear living in the truth that God loves us beyond measure that we will go to almost any lengths to deny it.
We envision some kind of confrontation with God where we are found wanting, too sinful or simply too unremarkable to be worth God’s time.
And so we erect all kinds of defenses against the love of God, anything to avoid being awash in the gentle affection and fierce passion of the Most High.
Joseph’s brothers have been relying on their father to protect them from Joseph. When Jacob dies, there is no longer any barrier between them and the truth.
They know it is time to admit their guilt, but instead of the condemnation they expect, Joseph again bathes them in tears of love and forgiveness.
What are you relying on to protect you from the truth?
What shields you from admitting your frailty to God and being confronted with God’s almighty love?
Guilt and shame are big culprits. Anger, indifference, busyness—any of these may mask the fear that makes us hide from God.
Whatever it is, let it die.
Like Jacob the Trickster, it has been fooling you into thinking God is distant or angry or aloof or any other lie about the Lover of Souls.
Let it go in peace, like Jacob, knowing his children were reunited. Be reunited with God. Quit making God try to shout over the noise of your life.
I know it’s scary. I’m not real thrilled with trying it either.
But you and I both know what it feels like to love someone so much that it aches, to hurt for someone and not be able to help.
We force God to feel that pain every time we push God away.
We force God to feel that pain every time we doubt that God would do anything and did do everything for us, giving us the gift of God’s only Son and letting him die on a cross for us.
So quit driving around in your own little self-contained bubble, cranking up the noise in your life to ear-splitting volume so you don’t have to hear the still, small voice.
Quit driving so hard. Put on the brakes. Get out of your busy life and stand before God.
Our first instinct is to throw ourselves to the ground before God, babbling excuses in terror like Joseph’s brothers.
But just like it did to Joseph, that will hurt God more than any sin we have committed. God knows we’re sorry for our sins.
Unclench your fists, lift up your eyes, and believe.
Believe to the center and ground of your being that you are the apple of God’s eye, that you are God’s special one, God’s favorite, God’s cherished, God’s dear one.
Do you realize that God has never been disappointed in you?
God loves you. Write it on your heart.
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