Writer, editor, stumbler after Jesus

The mess and the masterpiece

IF SOAP OPERA scriptwriters ever run out of plot lines, they just need to turn to the Old Testament. There’s enough dysfunction and craziness in there to keep a couple of shows running for years, though some of it might be considered too unbelievable.

For instance, until I reread the saga recently, I’d forgotten just how mixed up and messed up things were in the Abraham household. The man we honor as the father of our faith passes his wife off as his sister (twice) to protect himself. Impregnates one of his slaves (#MeToo before there was hashtags). And, ties his son Isaac up and threatens him with a knife (lucky there was no Child Protective Services back then).

The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. In due course, Isaac—like father, like son—tries to pass off his wife, Rebekah, as his sister. When Rebekah gives birth to twins, they are fighting from the moment they come out of the womb. One of them, Jacob, passes himself off as the other, Esau, to cheat his brother out of his birthright. Is misrepresentation a genetic fault, maybe?

Fleeing from his enraged brother, Jacob then goes off to find himself a bride and falls in love. Lo and behold, he wakes up the morning after the wedding to discover that he has been given the woman’s Plain Jane sister, instead—which suggests either Jacob must have had a snoot full at the reception, or he dimmed the lights way too low at bedtime.

In time, Jacob ends up with 12 sons from whom will come the tribes of Israel—sons born to four different mothers, mind you. No wonder there is all sorts of sibling jealousy going on when young Joseph pops up and declares he is going to be the head of the family, even though he’s the second-youngest.

Reading all this make me a bit dizzy—feeling like I needed a flow chart to keep all the wonky relationships straight. It also made me grumble a bit about God. I mean, really—these are the people He is choosing to bless the world through? They are hardly an advert for good family relations. What was He thinking? How could He turn a blind eye to all that less-than-holy stuff?

And then it occurred to me: He doesn’t. He sees it all, but He is not dismayed by it, because He also sees the bigger picture. The story isn’t really just about Abraham, or Isaac, or Jacob, or any of the other messed-up players. It’s about God’s bigger story, the great arc of redemption being written through the generations.

I realized it’s a bit like standing close up to a painting and pointing out all its imprecise brush strokes. You need to step back a few paces before you can see the full picture, and how from the right perspective all those imperfections can work together to be part of a masterpiece.

That’s the good news. Because my family stuff may not make the National Inquirer or a good soap opera plotline, but in its own way it’s just as messy and in need of God’s grace and mercy. Sometimes we get too caught up in our own story and lose sight of the bigger one He is working on.

Photo by Stephanie Audette on Foter.com/CC BY-SA

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