Origins – Telling the Whole Story

This is the radio devotion for Wednesday, July 8, 2020. Thanks to KCNI for airing these devotions from the Custer County Ministerial Association.

What would it mean if we were honest: if our heroes weren’t always perfect or heroic, and our villains weren’t always awful?

Good morning. I’m Matt Fowler, the pastor of Broken Bow United Methodist Church. This summer, I’m preaching on through Genesis – which means “origins” – and there’s so much there I wanted to take a different angle this week. Genesis helps us know who God is, and who we are as God’s people.

Thinking about origin stories, I have noticed that we tell predominantly good stories about people we believe are good, and bad stories about people we believe are bad. Have you noticed this? Have you done this? Regrettably, I’m certain I have. We want to think of ourselves, or appear, as good people, and so we smooth over, omit, or change the less savory stories of our lives. In this, we flatten the story.

In a few places in Genesis, we find something altogether different: stories of the supposed “heroes” doing horrific things, as in these two examples.

Genesis 34 recounts the story of Dinah, the daughter of Jacob and Leah. Shechem, the son of the region’s prince, rapes Dinah, and then proclaims he wants to marry her. Rather than stand up for Dinah, Jacob made a deal with Shechem’s family: he could marry Dinah if all the men of their city became circumcised. Then, while all the men were “still in pain,” Dinah’s brothers Simeon and Levi slaughtered all the males of the town in an act of revenge.

Genesis 38 recounts the story of Jacob’s fourth son, Judah, and his daughter-in-law Tamar. When her first husband dies, she marries Judah’s second son, according to levirate marriage custom. When he too dies, Judah prevents Tamar from marrying his third son. When Tamar sees that Judah has abandoned her, leaving her unprotected and unfit for marriage, she takes matters into her own hands. On a trip with friends, Judah sees Tamar but doesn’t recognize her. He treats her like she’s a prostitute and then goes along his way. When he hears that Tamar is pregnant, he’s the first to line up to have her killed for infidelity. But then she reveals that he is the father.

In these two stories, we see the sons of the patriarch Jacob acting in vengeful, callous, and ungodly ways. These are supposed to be the heroes of the story. And interestingly, there is absolutely no mention of God in these passages. None.

These stories challenge us to tell all our stories, and the stories of those we lift up, with honesty. It could mean we acknowledge that those we deem “good,” have actually been quite not good at points in their lives. And, it could mean that we refrain from demonizing a person we deem “bad” simply by lifting up his or her moral failures as the lowest common denominators of his or her character. Such honesty might allow us all to be fully human, flawed and full and grace. If we told stories like this, we might be able to treat each other as better than our worst day and humbly more than our best day.

Finally, in these stories, especially because of God’s narrative absence in them, I think we’re challenged to creatively see both God’s heartbreak at the failures of humanity and God’s immense grace to continue walking with such a people.

Let’s pray. God help us see ourselves and others with honesty, more than our worst and humbly less than our best days. And then, help us live with both your heartbreak and your grace. May it be so.

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