Tag Archives: #men

Comfort in pain and the reality of Joseph’s experience (Genesis 37-50)

Joseph is a cracker of a story isn’t it? He’s young and exciting, he has dreams, he’s God’s chosen – he even has a fancy coat and a musical. So even in popular cultural people know bits and bobs about him.

Image result for joseph and his amazing technicolour dreamcoat

As Christians, we might know a bit more. We might understand the context of his story in the broader arc of the whole Bible. We also tend to zero in on Genesis 50:20: “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.

This is the pinnacle of the whole story. Focus too far in and you would miss what God is doing. Joseph had the ability to step back and see the broader picture of what had been happening.

However, keep the focus too far out and we might miss the beauty in the detail. The beauty is in the picture of two men – father and son – and their deeply emotional expressions. In seeing their raw and honest emotions, there is profound teaching for all of us.

So lets trace Joseph’s story very quickly:

  • We meet Joseph aged 17 in Genesis 37:2 and he has 10 older brothers. He’s precocious and kind of a jerk – he brings his father Jacob a bad report about his brothers and when he has dreams suggesting that his brothers will all bow down to him, he tells them (which is the worst thing a younger brother can do!). Jacob doesn’t help and shows his favoritism by getting him a fancy coat.
  • At this age, or some time after, the brothers decide to kill him (37:20) but his brother Reuben intercedes. They are going to throw him in a cistern but decide at the last minute to sell him as a slave.
  • Joseph is sold as a slave to Egyptian official Potipher and the Lord was with him (39:2). But Potipher’s wife fancies him. When he refuses her, she accuses him of attacking her and Joseph is thrown in jail.
  • In jail, God is with him again (39:21). While there, he interprets 2 people’s dreams and his predictions come to pass, but it is another 2 years before he gets out and goes into the service of the Pharoah after correctly interpreting his dreams.
  • Genesis 41:46 says Joseph is 30 years old when he enters Pharoahs service and after this, there are 7 years of abundance. Two years into the 7 years of famine, Joseph’s brothers and Jacob intersect with him again – so as the story comes full circle, Joseph is 39 years old.

So Joseph suffers for 13 years before he is released from prison, and 22 years before he is reconciled with his family. We tend to think abut Joseph’s suffering in terms of the “God was with him” bit. I don’t know about you, but when I have been in a difficult place, it is has been possible to see that God is with me, and it is a comfort, but it doesn’t make the circumstances easier to bear in the immediacy and logistics of the situation. If we have a death in the family, or loss of a job, a serious medical issue or a crumbling relationship, we know that God is there and it comforts us – but we still worry and we still mourn and we still feel the pain or the situation.

So lets re-think this a little because there are several clues in the text as to what Joseph really thought and how he felt.

In his late teens, Joseph is facing his own brothers who are going to kill him, or throw him into a cistern in the middle of the desert. Cisterns were wells for capturing water. They were usually dug out of rock and were about 15-20 feet deep.

Ancient Cistern

Ancient cistern. Source: https://www.bible-history.com/biblestudy/cisterns.html

This prospect alone would be terrifying and in 42:21 we see what happened that night. When Joseph, as Pharoah’s administrator, toys with his brothers (who don’t recognise him), the brothers say to one another “Surely we are being punished because of our brother. We saw how distressed he was when he pleaded with us for his life, but we would not listen; that’s why this distress has come on us.”

How distressed he was when he pleaded with us for his life. Its a chilling picture. Joseph was terrified. He was just a scared boy.

The same night he is ripped from his family and sold into slavery. We have seen enough photos from around the world of people torn from their homes to begin to understand what he must have been feeling – confusion, fear, panic, loss. Deep down, he may just have wanted his mum.

But he survives. And he loses his young precociousness. In the house of Potipher, it turns out he, with God’s gifts, is a great manager and administrator. But then he is pursued and falsely accused. The injustice must have been a horrific burden. And then again, the fear of not knowing what will happen – rape was punishable by death or castration in ancient Egypt. But he is imprisoned.

Even though God was with him in prison, Joseph was still a prisoner in what must have been dark, crowded and disgusting surroundings. And he was there around 10 years. He endured for 10 years. It’s interesting that when it says “the Lord was with him” it doesn’t say that Joseph bore up well, or that he was content in heart. He was apparently steadfast and trustworthy enough to have been put in charge by the prison warden. But we don’t know how his heart was affected by his experiences there.

Then when Joseph comes face to face with his brothers, his emotions overcome him. He is the most important man in all of Egypt. He is a father and husband. He has saved countless lives through his management of the abundant and famine years. But when he first sees them, he engineers things so that one brother remains and is put in prison (42:19), just as he had been. Then he plants silver in their bags so they must live with the fear of false accusation – just as he had been (42:25-28). They are also to bring the last brother back to him, as what? As a slave? Possibly. But here we see Joseph in a tumble of ragged emotions and knee jerk responses. All the while, dealing with deep and bitter anger and frustration and who knows what else that had been building up in him for over a decade:

  • He (Joseph) turned away from them and began to weep (42:24)
  • Deeply moved at the sight of his brother, Joseph hurried out and looked for a place to weep. He went into his private room and wept there (43:30)
  • Then Joseph could no longer control himself before all his attendants, and he cried out, “Have everyone leave my presence!” So there was no one with Joseph when he made himself known to his brothers. And he wept so loudly that the Egyptians heard him, and Pharaoh’s household heard about it. (45:1-2)

This is where his life of anguish ends as he is reconciled with his family – but the anguish never leaves. We know this from our own bitter experience unfortunately. We may overcome. We may even triumph. But the experience shapes us. What we can say is that God was and is with us, and when the grief subsides, we can see the broadest arc of what He was doing in our lives.

And how about Jacob? My son will not go down there with you; his brother is dead and he is the only one left.” (42:38) This single line holds such passionate despair and fear. But what is Benjamin the only one of? The only other son of Rachel, Jacob’s beloved wife. Benjamin was the last piece of her that he had.

Both sons had been favoured by Jacob because he loved her so much. Jacob had been tricked by his father in law into marrying Leah and allowed himself to be enslaved and abused for the sake of marrying Rachel, such was his love for her (Genesis 29:18). She died in childbirth with Benjamin and so after the loss Joseph, Benjamin was Jacob’s only link with his departed wife. As hard as that must have been for his other children, we can understand the depth of his longing.

All these years he had grieved and now here Joseph was. Yes, a triumph. Yes, God’s plan. But there is such tragic beauty in the detail. We see strong men expressing their deepest emotions. God did not erase their pain, but He was with them.

The emotions are clear and honest. These emotions are God-given. And this story of Joseph is not the only place that we see God helping and guiding us in them. We see in Psalms, God gives us words to speak to Him in our anguish – we should use them. All of us will face circumstances that we think could break us. It is part of our human experience. But God did not leave us empty handed. We see in Joseph’s story a man remaining steadfast while experiencing all the most natural, honest and raw emotions. And Psalms shows us what we can say when the pain is so deep there are no words. We should not shy away from these.

Women can be good at this but this helps us to have shape to our emotional processing.

Men have not had a history or a culture of being able to do this. So for men, this might be liberating.

Don’t forget, if you find the rawness of these circumstances and emotions scary, let us remember that Jesus showed us the same. He showed us anger (Matthew 16:21-23), he showed us sadness (John 11:32-35), he showed us fear (Mark 14:35-36).

Look to Jesus and the humanity he displayed in all its realness. Take heart from Joseph and Jacob. Read the story. Read them as real people, just like you are. Read Psalm 69 or 86 – see how God helps us to cry out the words to Him when we might not even have them ourselves.

There is beauty in the detail when it is pointed God-ward. We don’t revel in in our negative feelings, but we can embrace the emotions that God gave us to process the pain. Only then can we step backwards and see the greater arc in what God is doing in our lives.

What makes a “good man”? (Or a good anyone?)

I was going to call this blog “Don’t high-5 each other just because you never raped anyone”. OK that’s a super provocative title, but I wanted to get people’s attention. The other problem with that title, is that it only relates to men and the issue that I wanted to talk about is actually an everybody-issue.

Let me explain.

I was reading an article recently. That’s it – not a madly exciting thing to happen, but its what it said. It talked about what makes a good man. As a mother of boys this is important to me. One of the criteria pulled me up short – “A good man will never abuse you”.

When did that become a criteria for being a good man? Have we become so used to despicable behavior that the mere absence of it is considered “good”?

So let me be clear:

Not hitting, stalking, raping or killing, or in any other way abusing someone, isn’t “good” behavior – its normal behavior. As humans, these are things we have, through time, collectively agreed are the opposite of good behavior. We have framed laws and protections against people who engage in them. To now be at the point in history that we would define someone’s goodness by the absence of abnormal behavior makes me heart-sick. And I am outraged on behalf of my sons and all the young girls out there that we would have them think that not being raped or abused by someone makes them a good man.

It would be easy to make this piece about culture-whinging and man-bashing but that’s not my jam. My aim with all these observations is to look at where we can get a course corrective that is positive and collaborative. The place always for this is the Bible. What does the Bible say is a good man?

Here’s some examples:

  • good man obtains favor from the Lord, but a man of evil devices he condemns Prov 12:2
  • The backslider in heart will be filled with the fruit of his ways, and a good man will be filled with the fruit of his ways. Prov 14:14
  • for he was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith. And a great many people were added to the Lord. Acts 11:24
  • And there was much muttering about him among the people. While some said, “He is a good man,” others said, “No, he is leading the people astray.” John 7:12

According to these passages, a good man “obtains favor”. How does a man obtain favor? Isaiah 66:2 says “These are the ones I look on with favor: those who are humble and contrite in spirit, and who tremble at my word.”

A good man will be filled with the fruit of his (good) ways. This looks like its saying a man reaps what he sows, but there’s more to it. The word translated as “filled” is the same for the backslider and the good man. It is the Hebrew saba and can mean both “satisfied” and “paid back”. From the context it appears apparent that the backslider will be paid back and the good man will be satisfied. How is one satisfied? As famed preacher Jonathan Edwards said: The enjoyment of God is the only happiness with which our souls can be satisfied. Check out some of the Psalms which give us a fuller picture of this:

As for me, I will be vindicated and will see your face; when I awake, I will be satisfied with seeing your likeness. Psalm 17:15

You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore. Psalm 16:11

The Acts passage describes Barnabas as he goes to Antioch. As a good man, he is full of the Holy Spirit and faith. And in John 7, we see that some saying Jesus is a good man being opposed by those who say he can’t be a good man because he is leading people astray.

This just starts to build a picture of what a good man is and gives me, as a mother of boys, a foundation for building my boys in character. We see a definite pattern here of being in God, knowing Him, seeking Him, having faith, humility, integrity and strength.

Of course the person who exemplifies these characteristics is in God himself, in His son, Jesus. Jesus’ sacrifice for us, washes us clean and we get to start again, rebuilding a new life in Him. He sent the Spirit to help us in this growth in Christ-likeness and we are to be led by Him. This is what Paul discussed in Galatians:

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. Galatians 5:22-23

This. THIS should be the criteria that defines a good man – and a good woman.

We must always remember that the air we breathe can influence the course of our thoughts and beliefs and attitudes. This cultural air proliferates everything in our lives through TV and radio, music, film, advertising and social media. As Christians we have a bigger picture than that and our God is bigger. And we are His image-bearers.

If we are to live in the light of Jesus’ sacrifice, we must assess ourselves against these criteria – not the absence of despicable behavior, but a passionate pursuit of God above all else, and the deliberate growth in Christ-likeness.

And if we are deficient or immature in these areas, we need each other as Christian brothers and sisters, to help each other grow. We must ask each other – what would gentleness look like in our contexts? What would self-control involve? Are there things to repent of in these areas? If we truly look at ourselves, are there things we need to change, develop, mature? This is the higher bar. It takes courage, self-reflection, honesty, humility – a big God, and trusted Christian friends.

God commands us to be different to our culture. And looking at our culture, our sons and daughters need us to be different too.

Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do. James 1:22-25

Towards a better understanding of sexual coercion in marriage and how Christians can respond

A week or so ago, I wrote an initial piece on sexual coercion in marriage, looking at what it is, whether it is actually a problem and how we should deal with it as Christians. You can read it here:

Sexual coercion: what is it, does it happen in marriage, is it justifiable and what do we do with this information?

Since then, I have also taken part in a live Facebook question-and-answer session. We ran over time because there were so many questions but hopefully we helped start a conversation.

We talked through 1 Corinthians 7:1-7 and what some critical terms mean – like “marital duty” and “authority over the body” mean. These can be particularly difficult terms for us to wrangle with and have been the source of much damage and distress in the past.

We explain what sexual coercion is with far more depth and nuance – including things like context, intentions versus reception, whether it is a repeated pattern of behaviour and so on.

We tackle tricky questions like “Is it all abuse?” and “Should we submit anyway?”

We talk about how it is damaging to women and to men and to marriages and in what ways.

We start to look how we can continue a collaborative conversation about this – seeking a positive and godly way forward that is biblical and supportive of our bodies, mental health, motions and ability to give joyfully and voluntarily (spoiler alert – its not an easy fix, but its possible if we have a language, have courage to communicate and have humility under He who gave us the picture of what marital intimacy should look like).

I hope you can engage, ask questions, take the conversation to your churches and ministers.

The Q&A session can be accessed here from the Facebook page:

Sexual Coercion in Marriage with GuruNow with Ruth Baker

If you have any questions, thoughts, comments, concerns please feel free to contact me. the work on this will continue so the more input the better. Send me your stories, your observations – anything!

If you feel you are in need of help, please speak to a trusted friend, pastor or professional.

GuruNow is the platform by the way – check them out on Facebook because the cover all manner of subjects from worry and anxiety, to bullying in the church, to Christian leadership and beyond.

 

Masculinity is good and not all men are toxic

“Masculinity” just means qualities that are characteristic of a man. But these days it has become a bit of a dirty word. This is partially understandable:

  • Most women have been at the arse-end of what has commonly been called “toxic masculinity” for an awful long time – that is everything from arrogance and casual sexism to misogyny and abuse.
  • The women’s movement is still relatively new (I talked about it a few weeks ago. You can read it here if you want to suss it out) and so we still have a lot of pretty poor attitudes, assumptions and behaviors towards women that have been institutionalised in our culture. For the longest time, we have been culturally numb to these, thinking its OK or doesn’t matter. But now, people are calling it out louder than before.
  • What erupts on social media is a reaction to hundreds of years of things that are not OK. Its a reaction to the feeling of not having had a voice before, or not being heard before, or just not plain being listened to before.

What happens then is that we have swung the pendulum towards all masculinity being bad and all men being jerks. This is just not the case.

What I want to see being part of the conversation is what real men look like, and what good masculinity looks like.

We might fall into the trap of thinking that all masculinity should be eradicated. But I don’t think this is what most women – or our culture – wants. We want our men to be grown ups. We want out men to be real men. But what does a real man look like?

Our culture actually celebrates what a real man should look like. The Marvel Universe movies have been some of the biggest and most popular movies in our generation. And what is aspirational in these movies is the men of character. In these movies we celebrate Captain America as the quintessential man. He is strong and powerful – but he is gentle and uses his power and strength in the service of others. He is humble, protective, principled, he has integrity, self-control, passion and a sincere sense of responsibility with no hint of complaint or resentment.

What we might not realise is that we have plenty of examples of just this kind of man in our day-to-day lives already – they just might not look like Captain America, and they might not be able to keep up that superhero character 24/7. But they try, and they self-reflect and they grow.

We should celebrate this. We should celebrate them.

Because that, in my opinion, is what a real man looks like. He is strong and he is powerful but he uses it for the good of others, in the service of others – not for his own glory or pride.

Does this sound familiar? It should. As Christians we have the picture of manhood: Jesus was the most powerful man ever to have lived. Yes, he is fully God, but he is also fully man. And as a man he, as the most powerful, did not relinquish or give up his power. He used his power for the salvation of the world.

When I say “power” here, I don’t mean like his superpower. I mean, on the cross, as a man, he used his power to die.

Just pause there and think about that.

God created man. And it was good. But after the fall, we all suffer from, and struggle with, sinful behavior. We will never be perfect until we get to finally relax in heaven. Until then, there will be good men and there will be bad men. There will be good women and there will be bad women. It is incumbent on us, with the help of the Spirit, to be active participants in our discipleship and growth in Christ-likeness.

Women – a discipleship journey does not preclude us from calling out crap behavior. But it means we should do it with love and grace.

Men – that means not being a jerk (you can read more about that here too). There is such a thing as toxic masculinity. But we have good men in our midst who should be celebrated for it. And we can help them use their power in the service of others. I know great men who you might call “feminist” in that, they choose to use their power and strength in the service of women – lifting them up, calling out crap behavior when its directed at them, respecting them, protecting them, working shoulder to shoulder with them, being aware (or actively learning) what women face, working to change institutional and cultural numbness to the plight of women, listening to them.

These are great men and we should not tar them with a “all masculinity is toxic” brush. Men are good. Masculinity is good. But like all things, good things can be made bad when mishandled or subject to pride and arrogance.

I want to celebrate our good men. I want them to be men. I want them to be masculine. Because I want us to be in conversation. This is a long game. If we are to change the kind of culture that results in terrible behavior towards women, we need men on our side. This is not a game to be played in opposition – nor should it be. We are co-workers in this life. We were created to be co-workers and it’s where we can be at our best, or our worst. I would like it be be at our best.