Don’t stop at chapter 37

Helen Fielding’s fictional character, Bridget Jones, has become famous in her own right through books bearing her name and through film adaptations starring Renee Zellweger, and the man best remembered as Mr. Darcy, Colin Firth. Sir David Jason, is also famous in his own right, think Open All Hours,Only Fools and Horses and Frost.

However, you would really have a creative imagination to bring Bridget and Del boy together either in a novel or on screen. It just would not work.

You might have been just a little surprised then, if you had purchased an early edition of Bridget Jones: Mad About the Boy – and let’s be clear, I didn’t – to find that at one point the book switches from the story of Bridget’s latest dilemma to the autobiography of the man who turned the Reliant Robin into an icon. No, it wasn’t the result of artistic collaboration between Helen Fielding and Sir David; a mix up by the publishers had produced the most unlikely literary hybrid in living memory. It was all a huge mistake.

There are some parts of the Bible that can sometimes feel a bit like the mix up at Fielding’s and Jason’s publishers.

Take, for instance, Genesis 36-37. In Genesis 36, we have the genealogy of Esau and his descendants. In truth, it’s one of those chapters that you read because it’s in the Bible, but not one that you would be likely to turn to for spiritual comfort or encouragement. It maps out the descendants of Esau. Perhaps rather surprisingly, the narrative is, on the surface, quite positive. Surprisingly, because Esau is not the one who has inherited the blessing. The development of Esau’s family seems to be one of almost unbroken progress. There is little indication of pain or tension, though no doubt there was, as they were all human beings.

Turn over to Genesis 37 and you read about how Jacob’s family is getting on, the family who are right at the centre of God’s purpose. What you are left with is the picture of a family tearing itself apart. Jacob’s favouritism of Joseph produces resentment amongst the rest of his sons. When the opportunity arises to “fix” Joseph, they take it. They tear his ornate robe from his back. They sell him into slavery. When Reuben finds out, he tears his clothes. When Jacob finds out, he tears his clothes. They are not only tearing their clothes apart, this is a family tearing itself apart.

You might wonder how two vastly different stories could sit side by side and more puzzling still, why is the family that is supposed to be blessed by God the one that is in such an unholy mess? The short answer is, we don’t know! We aren’t told. But the two stories are a powerful reminder that grace is not conditioned by the human condition. Grace is not restricted by human recklessness. Grace is not edged out by human ego.

Peter talks about the manifold grace of God (1 Peter 4.10). The dictionary definition of manifold is many and varied forms. The story of Jacob’s family reminds us that grace is just that – manifold.

Grace was bigger than their poor decisions. No-one – no-one – in Jacob’s family acted with any kind of wisdom, discretion or integrity. Jacob must have known what favouritism would produce, since his mother’s favouritism had fuelled the tensions between him and Esau. Joseph, behaved like a big headed, spoilt brat. And the brothers, well, the brothers.

But grace was still at work. Grace is bigger than our poor decisions.

Grace was bigger than their present situation. One day Joseph would be premier of Egypt. That’s grace. Grace is bigger than our present situation.

Grace is bigger than our personal struggles. Joseph was forced into a journey into the unknown. He needed grace. Reuben, racked with guilt, needed grace. Jacob in his loss needed grace. Who could have predicted how grace would meet their need? We all need grace in some way or other. Who can predict how God’s grace will meet our need?

If Genesis ended at chapter 37, then the whole thing would be more than a bit of a puzzle. Twenty-three chapters later, all becomes clear. No-one reading Genesis would stop at chapter 37. Chapter 37 is way too soon to stop. God’s grace doesn’t stop in chapter 37 of your life either. There’s a lot more chapters that grace wants to write.

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