The Messes We Make

No matter how many times I read through the stories in the Bible, I’m always amazed at the depths to which our human nature will take us. Why is it that we do things we know are wrong and foolish and are only going to cause ourselves and those we love great pain? How hard can the human heart be?

Today I read Genesis 34-39, and I was reminded that Jacob’s family was kind of a mess. He had twelve sons and one daughter (with four different mothers). His daughter was raped, and instead of simply holding accountable the man who did it, two of her brothers (Simeon and Levi) scheme to annihilate the entire city. Jacob makes it plain to all that his favorite son is Joseph, causing his brothers to harbor ill will, jealousy, and anger against him. When the opportunity arises, they sell Joseph off as a slave and convince their father he has been killed. What’s even sadder is that scripture says they watched as Jacob tore his clothes and mourned for days over Joseph, and they “arose to comfort him.” Watch your father fall apart because his son has died, and your heart is so hard you can pretend to comfort him? Wow. Then Judah, one of the older sons who should be an example to the others, ends up sleeping with what he believes is a temple prostitute (so much we could say about that), only to find out his daughter-in-law has tricked him into fathering twins out of her bitterness about her situation.

These are just a few of the stories you can read about the people God chose to build a nation through whom the Savior would come. As you can see, they were ordinary, fallible, sinful human beings just like you and me. They experienced jealousy, anger, insecurity, and bitterness. At times, they chose a course of action that brought great suffering and pain to others and did things you would think that God could never fix or redeem. God often let them suffer the consequences of their own behavior, as when Judah’s daughter, Tamar, became pregnant, and his sin was exposed, and when Reuben failed to step up and lead his brothers when he knew what they were doing to Joseph was wrong. His hesitancy became complicity, to the point he couldn’t stop what happened.

I believe God tells us these stories because it reminds us how much we need His mercy and grace. The human heart needs help. We are too easily led by our emotions, fighting for our rights in a moment of crisis, or acting in self-promoting or self-preserving ways. The stories also remind us that God can take the messes we make and use them for His glory and our good. Yes, He allows us to feel the pain of our consequences, but He is a sovereign, all-powerful God, and nothing we do can stop His eternal plans. We may derail for the moment, but if we repent, God is so kind and faithful to pick us back up, forgive us, and redeem what we’ve lost.

There’s a lot going on today that we could point out as wrong and declare that we would never do such a thing. The temptation is great. And yes, I believe that we should call out wrongs done, fight for justice and righteousness, and push back against evil. But let us do it humbly, knowing that “but for the grace of God, there go I.” None of us are perfect; we simply need to keep pointing people to the only One who can fix the human heart – our perfect Savior, Jesus.

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