Friday, January 30, 2009

God Playing God, Part 2

The assessment of having a God Complex is not applied to a surgeon or doctor that tries to save all patients, rather it is applied to one that is selective, and choses which patients will die from his or her neglect. Interesting association with God's behavior, no?

In Part 1 of the story, Joseph goes from prisoner to second-in-command under Pharaoh, with a mission to gather and distribute provisions for a seven-year-long famine that God had in His plans. At the conclusion of Part 1, the severe, worldwide famine had begun.

Did God have a plan for the famine besides the famine itself? Was this famine for a reason? There have been no reasons revealed so far. We continue our study to find out.

God Playing God, Part 2
We are jumping to Genesis 45 as we continue this story. To catch you up to speed, what followed Part 1 in Genesis 42 to 44 was a strange tale of Joseph's brothers going back and forth to Egypt to buy grain to survive the famine. Joseph's brothers don't recognize him on their visits. By the end of Genesis 44, Joseph has thoroughly intimidated his brothers and has threatened to keep his youngest brother as a slave.

Now, up to Genesis 45, we find that Joseph can't continue deceiving his brothers any more. Joseph, in confirming his identity to his brothers, provides some of the most intriguing and condemning words about God. Genesis 45:4-11
Then Joseph said to his brothers, "Come close to me." When they had done so, he said, "I am your brother Joseph, the one you sold into Egypt! And now, do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you. For two years now there has been famine in the land, and for the next five years there will not be plowing and reaping. But God sent me ahead of you to preserve for you a remnant on earth and to save your lives by a great deliverance.

"So then, it was not you who sent me here, but God. He made me father to Pharaoh, lord of his entire household and ruler of all Egypt. Now hurry back to my father and say to him, 'This is what your son Joseph says: God has made me lord of all Egypt. Come down to me; don't delay. You shall live in the region of Goshen and be near me—you, your children and grandchildren, your flocks and herds, and all you have. I will provide for you there, because five years of famine are still to come. Otherwise you and your household and all who belong to you will become destitute.' NIV
Concise God-related summary: God manipulated Joseph's brothers to conspire against him and to sell him into slavery, which provided opportunity to have him end up in Pharaoh's jail, and, with God's support, to have him become an instrument to preserve a number of people through the severe famine that God brought into fruition.

God used wicked motivation in Joseph's brothers to enact His plan. Given that we are expected to believe everything God does is good, that means that God used evil methods to achieve a good result. God is apparently of Machiavellian persuasion, believing that the ends justify the means. It seems irreconcilable for the primary example of Holiness, God, would employ such evil tactics. Yet this dissonant theme is demonstrated elsewhere as well, such as with God's relationship to Satan, but that's another study for another time.

The final point of interest in this part of the study is an affirmation of the scope of the famine. In Part 1, we saw the famine severely affected the entire earth. Lest you believe that this was just poetic hyperbole, we see that the purpose of Joseph's role was to “preserve for you a remnant on earth”. This famine was set to wipe out most of the population on earth, excepting Egypt and the closely surrounding areas due to the advanced storing of grain under Joseph's command. The famine was so severe that anyone without access to a grain supply would become destitute.

It's worth saying again that this bears a degree of similarity in scope as the Flood, where Joseph is like Noah and Egypt is like the Ark, while the rest of the world is decimated. God's promise after the Flood was that He wouldn't flood the earth again, not that He wouldn't commit worldwide devastation of mankind again. So, God is keeping His promise here. :-) However, in contrast to the Flood story, no justification has been given for this event, for making an untold number of people starve to death.

This far into our study we still have not identified a reason for God to bring this horrible famine on the whole world. The question still remains of what was God's plan for the famine? In the third and final part of this study, we will discover the answer to that question.


  1. Interesting observation. I have heard a different theory. It has to do with free will and living in an imperfect world. God works through bad and good circumstances (that he knows will happen but doesn't cause -- he just lets them happen). If this isn't free will God would appear pretty Narcissistic.

  2. Thanks for the comment Matthew.

    I have heard of that point of view, and when I was a Christian I even carried that point of view. However, as I study the Bible, it appears to me that God actually interferes with free will quite often; a fact not widely publicized. For example, the Bible explicitly claims that God hardened the Pharaoh's heart. And again, the Bible explicitly claims that God roused Nebuchadnezzar to attack the Israelites in Judah to send them into their Babylonian exile.

    You could also consider it this way: If God knows us well enough to know exactly how we would react to something, then He could control anyone despite free will. It could be said from the theory you suggest that God did just that when he gave Joseph the dream which angered his brothers.

  3. I agree that there are many occasions in the Bible where God hardens peoples hearts. There is also the example of God sending an "evil spirit" to King Saul 1 Samuel 16:14. It doesn't make too much sense and it does buck with the free will theory. But the examples you gave don't debunk free will as a whole from a Biblical perspective.

    I guess to your second point about "controlling someone despite free will" is an interesting point but it can also be said that maybe if God "knows the heart" (aka knows the direction things are going... he could push things along). That seems to reconcile...

  4. Good points Matt. Thanks!

    I had not intended to debunk free will as a whole, but rather to point out (as you agree) that God does intervene with free will sometimes. This would be a defense in interpreting the passage as it is literally written; that God orchestrated this event through such manipulation, and that it was not out of God's character to do so.

    Your comment about "debunking free will as a whole from a Biblical perspective" reminded me of the prophesy of Ezekiel 36:16-38 where God says that He will give the Israelites a new heart, God's own spirit, and they then obey God's laws and decrees (not sin). There are definitely a few different ways to look at it, but such a passage would seem to suggest that ultimately God will somewhat kill free will by forcibly keeping people on the straight and narrow path.

    But I better stop there before we start an epic dialog! :-)

    By the way, you are more than welcome to keep commenting if you would like. Also, if you feel that comments are becoming a little cumbersome, you are welcome to email me at