Column – Come closer to me

Published 6:29 pm Friday, August 25, 2023

Do you remember that toy that wasn’t really a toy? Best I can describe, it was an octagonal ball made by Tupperware that had holes in every side. You could fit round things in round holes and square-shaped things into square holes. I’m told those are called “shape sorters” in the world of child development.

Seems I don’t always get along with things that test my ability with shape sorting or spatial dynamics. You’ll notice that there are a lot of spatial dynamics in the Bible, if we pay close attention. There are stories of things that fit perfectly, and other stories where things just don’t fit at all.

The Bible has stories where they walked around and circled something. Stories where someone entered into a building, a temple, a house or entered into a new relationship. Stories that began as they went outside. Stories where distance was created or they went away from somewhere.

Then there are stories like this week’s in Genesis 45: 1-15, where the overwhelming movement was closer. Many of you will remember the story of Joseph. He was a late-in-life child born among an already large group of brothers.

He was doted upon, it seems, and treated as special. A favorite. As he grew in stature, his brothers grew in resentment. Of this story, one scholar reacted by asking, “How is it that the most theologically profound and emotionally moving moment in all of scripture is not in the New Testament but in the Old?”

The coat of many colors he was given might have been a step too far, that slight the rest of them could not get over. They conspired to do away with him, this pesky little brother who was getting more than his fair share of the goods and attention.

Joseph had to suffer a lot of indignities and banishment into a foreign land. But at every step along the way, it seemed that God was with him. You may recall he was promoted into a vaunted place of servitude, then into jail a time or two for issues he did not cause.

Eventually, though, he earned a position in Pharaoh’s house that was second only to Pharaoh himself even though Joseph was not from Egypt. As the famine that Joseph had foretold struck the land, people in neighboring areas suffered. Because he had prophesied the famine, and the corresponding need to store up massive amounts of food, their country had plenty. 

Thus all these years later, the brothers are sent over to Egypt to see if they might beg or somehow acquire food that simply couldn’t be had back at home. One writer observes that Joseph plays games with his brothers in these chapters, toying with them like a grand Egyptian cat would with a mouse before the kill.

As mean as some of this gamesmanship can appear, it is precisely here during these dialogues that we see the thawing of this relationship. Especially the hardened hearts of the cold-blooded brothers have changed. They now regard their misdeeds, and the permanent loss of their kindred Joseph, to be the greatest irreparable tragedy of their lives. 

One of the hard lessons of life is that we can make a life-changing mistake in one, worst moment. Even missteps in a season of our lives, that we are truly repentant for, may leave lasting damage. Repent as we might, wishing to undo it, we simply can’t always.

We get tired of all the distance. Or, at least we should. We don’t like the isolation and loneliness of our broken parts. Or, at least we shouldn’t. “Come closer to me,” Joseph said. Because God had sent him to remind us all, there’s always a bigger picture.

The voice of Joseph spoke those words to his brothers. God has spoken them to centuries of followers since then. To anyone who would listen, “Come closer to me.” Because when we venture closer, rather than taking the harsh actions that would create distance, we have a better chance to create a place of life with each other.

The power to create newness does not come from detachment or distance. It comes from risky, self-disclosing closeness. I may not be very good at complex puzzles, but God is. I may not always be able to see which end is which, but God can. I may not always be able to see far enough ahead to know what needs to happen next. But thanks be, our God can. 

Dr. Charles Qualls is senior pastor at Franklin Baptist Church. Contact him at 757-562-5135.