What’s in God’s toolbox?

“God has favorites.” Discuss this claim in light of the Joseph narrative.

In case it’s been a while, here’s The Joseph Narrative

So… I’ve always read the Joseph story in light of my own experience. Which, sure, is what we all have to do when we read anything in the Bible… but for this I use my experience as a “gifted and talented-identified” student who also moved frequently.

I don’t read Joseph’s gifts of dream interpretation as God’s favoritism per se, but more of a practical fact like his—or my—brown eyes. I don’t consider my teaching myself to read at age 3 a sign of God’s favoritism, either. It’s true; it’s different. Very different than other people… but it takes a while to get a handle on that. It’s only in interacting with others that one begins to discover ways of wielding one’s gifts that the community is willing to countenance. (Dreams at the breakfast table? Calling objects by their chemical names, like “polystyrene cube”? Not so much!)

God used Joseph as a particular tool to move God’s people ahead in time for another generation: Joseph’s gifts enabled the people of Israel to survive another famine, to prosper for a while, and to set themselves up for a later time of national forging. Some people are handsaws, some are hammers, some are nails, some are boards. God fills the world with the supplies God needs, and sets them all in motion to build God’s reign on earth.

We don’t get to hear Joseph speak about whether he considered himself God’s favorite. We do get to hear Joseph’s understanding of himself as God’s implement, however: “God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth, and to keep alive for you many survivors. So it was not you who sent me here, but God […]” (Genesis 45:7-8).

Unusual gifts can seem like God’s favoritism when the gifts aren’t yours, particularly if it looks like they might get you killed…but then don’t. But my internal experience with my gifts more closely matches a colleague of mine’s comment about how the stories in Genesis all point to how “being [God’s] preferred isn’t for the faint of heart.” That doesn’t seem like any kind of favoritism that I understand! It seems more like being God’s nail. Or handsaw.

This post was originally written for a class discussion board. We don’t do much discussing there, frankly, but ours is a reasonable forum for blog-style communiques like the passage above.

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