Joseph’s story is famous. I won’t recount it. But the other night I was profoundly affected by a couple sentences in the story of Joseph that I had never really thought about before.
“Then the brothers killed a young goat and dipped Joseph’s robe in it’s blood. They sent the beautiful robe to their father with this message “Look at what we found. Doesn’t this robe belong to your son?” Their father recognized it immediately. “Yes,” he said, “it is my son’s robe. A wild animal must have eaten him. Joseph has clearly been torn to pieces!” Then Jacob tore his clothes and dressed himself in burlap. He mourned deeply for his son for a long time.” -Genesis 37:31-34
For the first time, I really noticed Jacobs’ side of this story.
I’d never really appreciated the awfulness of what Jacob’s older sons actually did to him. Genesis 37: 34-35 says, “He mourned deeply for his son for a long time. His family all tried to comfort him, but he refused to be comforted. “I will go to my grave mourning for my son,” he would say, and then he would weep.”
Jacob lived a big portion of his life believing his favorite son was dead. And even though this story ends on a high note, where Jacob is reunited with his beloved son, there is still the 20 years of grief that Jacob will never get back combined with the 20 years of betrayal that are seemingly never acknowledged.
I think my Sunday school upbringing did not do me many favors when it comes to the Old Testament. The crafts and puppets all seemed to indicate that all stories have a neat, tidy lesson. Joseph forgives, Jonah obeys, David waits, Sarah conceives, Noah finds land, etc. It set me up to expect resolution for everything. But as we all know- life is not like that.
And just like my life, here is a part of the story that seems grossly under explained. The “why” we are given is pretty macro: set up Joseph in Egypt so that the Israelites are ultimately preserved through a famine.
But what about the micro? What about Jacob’s grief and suffering? What about justice for the lies of his other sons? Why was that necessary? And why relocate a chosen people to Egypt when they will just turn into slaves there 400 years later?
Sometimes I think asking these questions makes Christians nervous. I know because they used to make me nervous. I thought that having faith meant that you had answers for everything.
But because of some recent suffering in my own life I see things differently. I no longer expect to have answers for suffering. In fact, I feel massive relief when people admit they don’t know. When friends sit in the question and the pain rather than try and tie it up into a positive story.
It is helpful for me to notice the parts of the famous Bible stories where there is no direct explanation. Not to “poke holes” in some kind of perfect narrative. But because it makes me more able to accept the unresolved parts of my own story. If God doesn’t explain himself to the patriarchs of the faith then why do I expect him to explain himself to me? His reasons are not always clear, let alone satisfactory.
The fact is, Jacob suffers needlessly for a long time and his sons’ systematic betrayal never really gets its day in court. But Jacob still has faith in God.
I think faith isn’t actually faith without unresolved questions.