Joseph and Pain (Part 5)

joseph-recognised-by-his-brothers-xx-francois-pascal-simon-baron-gerardWe finally reach the climax of the Joseph story when family pain and shame, both of which had been repressed for years, pushed forth in a way that brought true healing and reconciliation. In this final segment to the series, I want to highlight how more interactions were still needed to resolve a problem that ran deep for all involved. We know that Joseph’s pain ran deep because of the cathartic crying he did throughout the story. And we know that the brothers’ repressed shame ran deep because we see how they recognized their ownership bit by bit.

We are at the point in the story where the brothers have returned to Egypt for the second time (Genesis 43:17f). At the outset, positive gestures seem to stream from both sides. The brothers, though frightened, brought gifts for Joseph (spices, balm, honey, etc.), plus twice the silver they had returned with. Immediately they explained the status of their silver, to which the steward said, “It’s all right.” Honesty and trust were leap-frogging well with each other. And then Simeon was released.

imgresAll of this resembles a typical dialogue meeting between victims and offenders of severe crimes. After preparation, both parties are nervous to meet, but they are ready to offer each other the gifts of good intent and openness. In this case, the brothers presented their gifts, and Joseph had his servants prepare a sumptuous meal. This is the point where Joseph sees Benjamin and has to go into another room to weep. Many victims have to contain their pain before they feel completely safe to express it to an offending party. At the same time, many victims are not aware of the depth of their pain.

“So (the brothers) feasted and drank freely with him.” One would think, “At last, all is well.” But given the seriousness of the matter, more ‘depth work’ had to be done. Unbeknownst to the brothers, on their departure the next morning, Benjamin’s sack of grain contained Joseph’s special silver cup. Joseph’s men followed the brothers as instructed, and, according to the set-up, Benjamin was exposed as a thief. Once again, but this time with greater fear of negative consequences, the brothers were reliving the trauma that they originally had set in motion. And back to Joseph’s house they went.

The brothers were reliving the trauma

Judah, representing the family’s moral conscience, steps forward. “What can we say? How can we prove our innocence? God has now uncovered our guilt” (44:16). Judah names the fact that the crime against Joseph was indeed a real crime and there was no way to hide it any more. “We are now my lord’s slaves.” Joseph presses things one more time, asking only for Benjamin to bear the consequences. Judah then gives a lengthy recapitulation of the entire storyline, complete with Jacob’s broken-heartedness. He ends by saying, “Now then, please let (me) remain here as my lord’s slave in place of the boy.” He is prepared to surrender all for the sake of making things right. There is no greater gift to a victimized party than to hear a statement of willing substitution.

Foster_Bible_Pictures_0054-1_Joseph_Kissing_His_Brother_BenjaminFinally, the dam breaks. Joseph weeps out loud, as he “could no longer control himself” (45:1). He reveals his identity: “I am Joseph, your brother!” He then explains how God has been involved in the drama, protecting the family from the severity of greater famine yet to come. The entire group ends up weeping, hugging, and kissing. It was a moment of great release. For the brothers, it was also a shock of grace. The hiddenness of family pain was not only revealed; that pain was also disappearing. The complex dialogue process, which involved testing and truth-telling, listening and learning, had finally allowed for the evaporation of the repressed pain and shame that kept the family captive to the past. With pain released, all eyes could finally focus on the future…

…which is precisely what the rest of Genesis does. The remaining parts of the Joseph story all lean toward a future full of promise. Once things resolved in a way that set human hearts at peace, it was possible for the main characters to work together on mutual solutions. With Pharaoh’s blessing, the first plan was to bring Jacob to Egypt. When the brothers finally went home to announce the good news, “Jacob was stunned; he did not believe them.” But on hearing more detail, and seeing Egyptian carts for his family’s return, “Jacob’s spirit revived.”

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This has been a long series, but it was necessary to stretch out my commentary in order for you to appreciate the richness and depth that can happen in a restorative dialogue process. Some of the recurring themes include how a good resolution process allows for past-pain narratives to be re-experienced in condensed ways in order for them to be put to rest. This fits with the adage from Elaine Enns in the first entry: “To move past trauma you have to move through it.” Another theme has been the power of direct encounter in safe settings. Without Joseph and his brothers having face-to-face dialogue, there would never have been opportunity for the deep healing and family reconciliation to take place.

Finally, we have seen how moving through trauma by means of direct encounter is hardly a pleasant experience. There are no formulas for making it quick or easy, and there are no guarantees for how it will turn out. But we do see in the Joseph story how positive intentions can help people endure and stay present, especially when things get uncomfortable. In the end, faith, hope and love win the day. This means that sibling rivalry, throughout Genesis, is never a fated reality. Reconciliation can and does happen. And this, then, means that our own long-term conflicts and estrangements with others are never fated as unredeemable situations. Reconciliation can and does happen.

(end of the Joseph series)

Contacting Ted Lewis

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