I grew up constantly comparing myself with others, wondering if I measure up to the standard that was set forth by my peers. To a certain extent, I understood that God loved me, but I also saw God the way I saw the other authority figures in my life, such as my dad. I knew that my father loved me, but he was emotionally distant. At least that was the message I got. Subconsciously, I knew that if I were ever to win over his approval, I better get my stuff together and be perfect. Consequently, I viewed a perfect God through the imperfect lenses of my father’s flawed actions and character. It is confusing when someone you know supposedly loves you, but at the same time, you live under the constant frown of their eyebrows. There seemed to be an unspoken nagging at everything that I did. It started with my father, and it continued with other people including my coaches and friends. No matter what I would do, I would never be good enough. Even my thoughts eventually echoed of other people’s opinions of me. The questions of this unrelenting nagging would never stop. Slaveck, when will you get it together? When will you be better at sports? When will you act more mature? When will you be more disciplined? When will you be more responsible? Why can’t you be more like so and so? Needless to say, it was discouraging. Naturally, this carried into my relationship with God because I took my indicators about God’s character from other people. Hence, I began to see God in the same way, and I felt the whole frown of Heaven watching mine every move
The frown of Heaven was always an overcast sky with thunder ready to pounce at my every move and every misstep. I could feel Heaven’s interrogation asking the same type of questions. Slaveck when will you stop sinning? When will you pray and read the Bible more? When will you fully devote yourself to God? As a result, it was no surprise that most of my devotion to God was motivated by guilt, and it was rooted in either fear or pride. I feared rejection and tried to overcompensate by boasting in my pride. After all, pride was more comfortable to give into then fear. So I worked hard to be accepted, and my value came from the approval of others hoping that if I am acceptable to people then maybe God will accept me too. This was my constant state of mind, and I saw the acceptance of God based on what I did or did not do. I had a form of religion, but no relationship with God. I wanted to do good and be accepted, instead of knowing that I am accepted; therefore I will do good things.
This went on for quite a long time and the more I read about the great men and women of God, the more I saw how short I fall of their standards. I continually tried to compare myself to people from the Bible. I would ask myself why? Just why can’t I be more like David? Moses? Or Joseph? But the more I tried to imitate them, the more I failed. So the nagging from people, and what I thought was God’s voice, and even my conscience kept overwhelming me from every direction. Ever so harshly, all of these voices criticized and belittled me; like the constant picking at a sore wound, which never healed. I would just endure the failed attempts at being better and emotionally hang my head in despair
I was too busy to see that the people in the Bible were not perfect either, and most of them had their messes which we would cringe at. Take the story of Joseph for example. If you thought that your family is dysfunctional, remember that Joseph’s brothers sold him into slavery. Talk about family betrayal and deep hurts. Nonetheless, I heard the story of Joseph preached and re-told as a do better type of story. You know? God helps those who help themselves type. As such God blessed Joseph because he was righteous and refused to be disobedient. While this sounds great, if that is our only view then chapter 38 throws a wrench into this interpretation of this story. Chapter 38 intentionally takes a hiatus from the rest of the narrative and sets itself up to tell a seemingly different story
Here, after Joseph is sold into slavery, Judah, which was Joseph’s brother marries a girl, and they have three sons. The story goes on when one of his sons gets married to a woman named Tamar, just to end up dying shortly after. To redeem his brother’s name and leave an heir to his sister in law Judah’s second son Onan decides to marry Tamar but while he enjoys having a sexual relationship with her, he also refuses to provide her with a child. Now in those times a woman without a man is a woman with no inheritance or anyone who can provide for her. Looking at Onan’s selfishness God kills him. The reason was that Onan enjoyed the benefits of a sexual relationship without taking on the responsibilities of providing an heir for Tamar so she could receive an inheritance and be provided for.
Adding insult to injury after Onan’s death, instead of taking care of Tamar, Judah sends her back to her parents. To his credit, he makes a vague promise of giving his last son as a husband to her but he intentionally forgets, and she gets the message that she is not wanted and that Judah’s household has no intention of taking care of her. So she devises a plan and dressing up as a prostitute, she solicits her services to Judah when he is in town. He promises to pay her and leaves his staff and ring as a pledge for payment. When he sends payment, the prostitute (Tamar) is nowhere to be found. Judah is fine with her keeping his things as long as he does not hear from the prostitute again. In this way, Judah gets fooled by Tamar’s plan, and at first, he does not know that he slept with his daughter in law.
Sometime later Judah finds out that Tamar is pregnant and condemns her to be stoned to death. This is when she pulls out his ring and his staff and says that I am pregnant by the man who owns these things. There is no mistake everyone knows that those things belong to Judah. Realizing that he is the one who got her pregnant he admits his guilt and declares her more righteous than he is. Humiliated and embarrassed we see a remorseful Judah, and it is here we notice that something happens that changes Judah’s heart.
When Judah’s sin was exposed his wounds were finally exposed for them to heal. He learned the way of grace by encountering grace, and in turn, he did not blame someone else but owned up to his faults and the weight of their consequences. Admitting his sin and repenting as well as trying to make amends wherever he could. This changed his hard heart that he had for so long. You see? It was Judah who recommended that Joseph is sold into slavery, but after all, this happened with Tamar, we see a different Judah.
This idea is reinforced when Judah faces Joseph again. Especially when Joseph sets up the stage to see if his brothers have changed. Joseph pretended not to know his brothers and crafted a plan to keep Benjamin his younger brother with him. He wanted to see if any of his other brothers would be willing to abandon another younger brother into slavery. So Joseph purposefully planted his silver cups in Benjamin’s sack of grain.
Joseph explains that because of their heist with his silver, which was supposedly stolen by Benjamin, Benjamin would have to remain with him. Guess who comes out forward and petition to exchange his life for Benjamin? You guessed it right; it was Judah.
It is easy to lose ourselves in the “do good to be blessed” narrative of this story. However, this story has a deeper meaning. The story is about life being transformed, namely that of Judah who was a heartless, greedy, judgmental traitor, who was willing to sell his brother and disregard his duties of taking care of widows while sleeping around with prostitutes. In short, Judah was a mess but along the way he encountered grace, and that grace transformed him to the point that he was willing to offer his life to save Benjamin’s. Judah’s story is filled with lies, betrayal, adultery, rape, incest and disregard for the poor, yet God turns this mess into a message.
Judah died without actually knowing the impact of his changed heart. You see? When Tamar finally gave birth to Judah’s sons, one of the two boys names is Perez which we encounter again in Mathew chapter one. It turns out that Perez happens to be in the lineage of Jesus. Hence the Bible talks about Jesus being the “Lion of Judah” and not the “Lion of Joseph.”
The climax of this story is that God, in the midst of all the brokenness, took all the dysfunction and made it into something beautiful. He made the household of Judah part of the lineage of the Messiah. That is something that the whole world has been and will talk about.
So what is the mess you are dealing with today? Does the guilt and shame of what you have done always remind you of your open wounds? Do you walk under the frown of others’ eyebrows and the frown of Heaven? Perhaps you have felt the same way too, and I would venture to say that some of you are still walking under the constant frown of other peoples’ eyebrows and Heaven’s. Perhaps you feel pulled down by shame and guilt for things you might have done or didn’t do. Well, I got good news for you, Jesus came to turn your mess into a message and your test into a testimony.