Tuesday, February 25, 2014

The Lasting Effects of Sin

Lonely, forgotten, Joseph sat in jail for no reason at all. He had done the right thing -- so why was he here?

His friend, Pharaoh's chief butler, had promised to remember Joseph when the butler was reinstated. But he completely forgot.

How often do we forget to keep promises that we made? I know I do, and there is a terrible feeling of guilt. The butler's words express this sort of guilt when, on Pharaoh's birthday "two full years" later, he introduces the king of Egypt to God's dream interpreter (pun not intended).

"Then spake the chief butler unto Pharaoh, saying, 'I do remember my faults this day: Pharaoh was wroth with his servants, and put me in ward in the captain of the guard's house, both me and the chief baker: And we dreamed a dream in one night, I and he; we dreamed each man according to the interpretation of his dream. And there was there with us a young man, an Hebrew, servant to the captain of the guard; and we told him, and he interpreted to us our dreams; to each man according to his dream he did interpret. And it came to pass, as he interpreted to us, so it was; me he restored unto mine office, and him he hanged' " (Genesis 41:9-13).

How terrible it is that we so long delay blessings for others' because of forgetfulness and neglect!

Joseph, upon hearing the dream, interprets it precisely, all by God's power. He furthermore gives the Pharaoh suggestions that would combat the approaching famine. The great ruler, impressed by Joseph's wisdom, appoints him to be in charge of the food collection and makes him the second ruler in Egypt.

By his Egyptian wife, Asenath, Joseph fathers two sons, whose names reflect a resurfacing pain in his heart. His firstborn he named Manesseh, which means "causing to forget." His reason? "For God, said he, hath made me forget all my toil, and all my father's house." In that order: toil in Egypt, all his father's house (namely his cruel half-brothers, much-loved full-brother, and dearly beloved, but deceased mother). What happened to him in Egypt, though unfair, was bearable. But what happened among his own flesh and blood took much longer to overcome and move on from.

Ephraim, meaning "double fruit"; "For," he said, "God hath caused me to be fruitful in the land of my affliction." Why is this a double fruit? Why did he not simply name his second-born Ephrath, "fruitfulness"? Because God had not only helped Joseph to forgive and forget the horrible events of past years, but had also overturned Joseph's situation in making him governor of all Egypt, this was to Joseph a double blessing.

Within a few years, Joseph's brothers came down from Canaan into Egypt to buy food. When they arrived, they were treated with hostility and accused of being spies. The usually amiable Joseph was anything but nice to the ten family men. After suffering a three-day time in ward and being warned not to come into Egypt again without meeting certain requirements, the brothers communed among themselves.
"And they said one to another, We are verily guilty concerning our brother, in that we saw the anguish of his soul, when he besought us, and we would not hear; therefore is this distress come upon us. And Reuben answered them, saying, Spake I not unto you, saying, Do not sin against the child; and ye would not hear? therefore, behold, also his blood is required" (Genesis 42:21-22).
Joseph could hardly hold back tears both here and on other occasions. His cruelty was not of a broken and unforgiven heart, but of a searching one: Have my brothers changed? To hear them express their immense guilt all these years later answered his question in part -- they actually recognized the badness of the deed they had done. It also poked his scars and made him remember the "anguish of his soul."

Seventeen years later, the brothers consulted again. Their father was dead, and they feared that Joseph would finally retaliate for the terrible deed committed decades ago. They petitioned the lord of Egypt to indeed forgive them and gave themselves to be his servants.

Joseph wept. How could they not understand that he had forgiven them long before he saw them again? He spoke kindly to them and tried to reflect on them his immense love and mercy toward them.

That is what sin does to us. On both the criminal and the victim are inflicted wounds that are hard to heal. Guilt eats at us; words and stories trigger awful memories; fear paralyzes us from moving on; doubts create a wedge in regenerating relationships.

"But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us, Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved;)."* We do not have to be afraid. We do not need to hold on to guilt or doubts. We do not have to be stuck in the past. When Jesus declares, "Behold make all things new," He means it. And we are to have full faith in the assurance of His forgiveness, His love, His grace and mercy, and His strength to overcome past weaknesses -- whether those weaknesses be the propensity to hurt others through wrong doing or the tendency to dwell on past hurts.

"And [God] hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus: That in the ages to come He might shew the exceeding riches of his grace in His kindness toward us through Christ Jesus" (Ephesians 2:6-7).

"To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with Me in My throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with My Father in His throne" (Revelation 3:21).

The effects of sin do not have to last forever.

*Ephesians 2:4-5

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