Journeys with Joseph — Punishment or Consequences?
Punishment or Consequences? Genesis 42:18-28, Matthew 7:7-12
After Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans I remember hearing that there were some Christian preachers who were saying that the storm was a punishment from God because New Orleans was such a sinful city. I believe the preachers were referring to things like the voodoo religion that can be found in New Orleans, or some of the happenings on Bourbon Street in the French Quarter, or the debauchery that occurs around Mardi Gras. The logic was that these things had been going on for long enough and God was finally fed up. But there are a lot of people doing good things in New Orleans as well, including some Christians. If God had really wanted to take out the sinners couldn’t have God used a more surgical strike?
When we cannot readily explain why something has happened we can be quick to blame God. I wonder, though, if sometimes when we are blaming God we are seeking to take some of the blame off ourselves. Were the effects of Hurricane Katrina so bad only because of the storm itself? Could the levees have been built a little stronger or bigger? What if the pumps hadn’t failed? What if many of the natural mangrove barriers hadn’t been removed for development? Is it possible that humans may be contributing to a change in the climate that makes for bigger storms?
In the portion of the Joseph story that we will hear this week, the brothers of Joseph are quick to blame God because of their predicament. They are confronted by their younger brother who is now the governor of Egypt. They don’t know that the Egyptian official is actually their brother they sold away and Joseph decides to test them before he reveals who he is. He accuses them of being spies and puts their money back in their bags. The brothers are frightened when they find the money because they think for sure the Egypt official will throw them in prison. One of the brothers thinks they are being punished because they hurt Joseph, but the others say “What has God done to us?” as if their potential punishment did not have anything to do with their own actions.
Jesus said, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” He seems to be saying that sometimes there are consequences that occur because of our behavior. If you treat others with disrespect or anger there is a good chance that it might come back to bite you. What if we instead admitted that we might be wrong sometimes? What if we approached each other with more humility? What if we looked first at how our actions might have contributed to a problem before being so quick to blame God or someone else? Is it possible others might respond to us differently? Is it possible we could prevent things from getting worse?
-Pastor Erik Goehner