Christianity and the Problem of Human Violence
From All-Creatures
Christian Living

True Christian living requires us to live according to Kingdom standards which bring Heaven to earth

Christianity and the Problem of Human Violence
By Stephen R. Kaufman, M.D.
http://www.christianveg.com

Part 15 Joseph

In the story of Joseph, we again see the theme of brothers in rivalry in which a younger brother prevails. Jacob’s gift of the multicolored robe to Joseph causes mimetic rivalry and resentment: “when his brother saw that their father loved him [Joseph] more than all his brothers, they hated him, and could not speak peaceably to him.” (Gen 37:4) Then, Joseph dreams that his brothers will bow down to him, furthering resentment and anger. While mimetic rivalry often leads to murder, Reuben spares Joseph’s life. Reuben fails, however, to prevent his brothers from selling Joseph into slavery. I think that this story illustrates that it is difficult to avoid the pull of mimetic rivalry, mimetic accusation, and mimetic violence, but Reuben shows that love (in his case for his father, who would be grieved by losing Joseph) can sometimes prevail.

Joseph’s adventures in Egypt are filled with mimetic rivalry issues, but I want to focus on the end of the story, in which Joseph forgives his brothers. The brothers return to Egypt during the famine, and they do not recognize Joseph, who is in charge of food distribution. Eventually, Joseph forces them to bring the youngest child Benjamin, who is beloved by the father. Joseph frames Benjamin for theft and threatens to enslave the young man. Judah requests that he be enslaved instead, and I think that this demonstrates that the brothers’ love for their father outweighs resentment they might now feel towards Benjamin. Joseph, evidently satisfied that his brothers are now loving and contrite, forgives them.

We will see similar themes in the New Testament. Joseph, who has been treated terribly by his brothers, is not embittered. He claims that the events were part of God’s plan to “preserve life” and manage the famine. We will later see that Jesus retains love for those who persecuted and abandoned him, in part because he saw his fate as God’s plan. Also, Joseph forgives his brothers, after they showed genuine contrition. We will later discuss how we may be forgiven of our sins, if we are contrite and aim to sin no more, and how forgiveness is critical to our transcending the human tendency to engage in scapegoating violence.

In preparation for next week’s installment in this series, I encourage you to read Joshua Chapter 7.

Go on to Part 16: Joshua 7
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Christianity and the Problem of Human Violence

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