Thursday, April 11, 2013

God Brings About Good

There is an entertainment/literature trope called "Put on a Bus," in which a major character disappears in such a way that the character can be brought back.  At the end of Men in Black, agent K retires (and is deneuralized), and then a large portion of Men in Black II is devoted to his restoration. Similarly the second and third Pirates of the Caribbean movies, where Jack Sparrow goes down with the ship in II and then is located and returned in III. This is a very common trope in soap operas: for instance, when I was a kid, the character Stephen Frame in Another World was presumed dead, reminisced about for over a year, and then reappeared.

I don't care for this trope in movies very much. But then I realized that the Bible has an elaborate "story line": the family of Jacob settles in Egypt via the complicated circumstance of Joseph's "disappearance" from Canaan, and then God rescues the Israelites in order to return them to the land where Jacob and his family had left!  Not only is this a "story line," it comprises nearly 90% of the Torah (the most precious part of Scripture for Jews), contains the covenant and mitzvot foundational for the Bible and, as I discuss in another post on this site, the Exodus story is next to Jesus' resurrection as key for the whole Bible.

You may wonder about God's strange ways, as I do. Why such an elaborate, centuries-long plan, just to get the descendants of Abraham back to the place from which they started? To prove God's saving power? To create a "community" of God's people through misfortune, salvation, covenant, and memory? To show God's faithfulness and righteousness in and among unfortunate human circumstances? Yes, yes, and yes.

I thought about all this while we were on vacation as I read the July 21, 2011 piece in the Lutheran devotional Portals of Prayer. The piece noted that God used the sin of Joseph's brothers in order to establish a plan to save God's people: "God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive," declared Joseph (Gen. 50:20).

The piece notes that many of us suffer because of the sins of others. Certainly, we're not spared that kind of suffering, a fact which can put a strain on our faith if we're struggling to understand why things happen generally, or why God allows terrible things to happen. (In fact, the July 22nd devotion concerns Mary Magdalene, who stood heartbroken at the empty tomb and, in her distress, could not recognize the living Jesus in front of her.)

The devotion writer notes that "In any terrible circumstance, even physical death and the pain and loss it brings, God can and does work good things. We can count on it." The stories of Joseph, the Exodus, and Christ's resurrection are great benchmarks of God's love and salvation among the difficulties we face.

We must remember that God didn't work in Joseph's life just for Joseph's sake! (Why did God allow Joseph to "rot" in prison for two years, for instance? His betrayal and exile were compounded with still more betrayal and distress.) When we personally are in crisis, we're naturally thinking of the resolution of that distress whenever we pray for divine help. But God worked in Joseph's life not only for his sake but also to achieve a greater good---several greater goods, in fact. Although our own circumstances are not on par with the biblical events, we can take comfort that God may not only be involved in our personal situation but possibly also, through us, the difficulties of others.


While I don't mean to distract from my devotional thoughts above, I browsed a bit through the addictive site,, as I looked for that phrase "Put on the Bus." I noticed a few other tropes that reminded me of some Bible stories. This is just a bit of daydreaming about the Bible's content, not intended to be irreverent.

"The Can Kicked Him," or incidents when a character is injured or killed in the bathroom. Pulp Fiction is an example. In 1 Samuel 24, Saul goes into a cave to relieve himself, and David could've killed him there---but did not.

"Stuffed in the Fridge," incidents when a character is killed in a gruesome and horrifying way. Certainly the gang-rape, death, and dismemberment of the Levite's concubine in Judges 19 is one of the Bible's most awful passages.

"Chuck Cunningham Syndrome," when a character (like Richie's older brother in Happy Days, or Carrie's sister in King of Queens) disappears without explanation and never again referred to.  Zerubbabel figures notably and hopefully in the prophecies of Haggai and Zechariah and in the first part of Ezra (the story of the post-exilic restoration) but then ceases to be part of the story! His name is mentioned, though, once in Nehemiah and in the Matthew 1 genealogy of Jesus.

"Sobbin' Women," a pun on the Sabine Women: women who are kidnapped for companionship, as in Seven Brides for Seven Brothers and an episode of Gunsmoke in the mid 1970s. Another horrible Bible story is the rape of the women of Shiloh by the Benjaminite men at the conclusion of Judges.

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