This was the name of the Regent summer school course that we took with Steve when he visited. It was probably the most unique and eye-opening course we have taken! Instead of meeting at Regent College, in its somewhat plush, renovated and air-conditioned building, we started off meeting in a downtown legal office with a spectacular view of the mountains. This was quite deliberate as the first two bible passages we explored were positioned around those who have power over those who don’t. As we sat in our reclining leather chairs, we read the Joseph Narrative in Genesis.
Depending on what you choose to focus on, you can make Joseph out to be a good or a bad character. A few snapshots: Joseph alienates his brothers by boldly re-telling his dreams predicting his power to the point Jacob has to rebuke him for it (G 37:10); Joseph makes slaves of the Egyptians and Israelites because they are desperate for food (G 47:21); Joseph plays tricks on his brothers, e.g. planting the silver cup in the sack (G 44); after Jacob’s death, the brothers instinct is to fear Joseph (G 50:15). Joseph is someone who knows how to move into a position of power and privilege, and gains power with his father, Potiphar, the jailor and Pharaoh. Early on “the Lord was with Joseph” in these ‘promotions’ (see G 39), but that favour drops out of the text after this point. God did use Joseph to save the Israelites from starving, but does that mean we should emulate an oppressor like Joseph? In the end, are you left with a picture of Joseph as a God-fearing Israelite or someone who has adopted Egypt’s powerful and enslaving ways? Or is Joseph a good Israelite who saves his people from starvation by chaining them to slavery?
The next day, we found ourselves in a very different location. The corner of Main and Hastings in Vancouver’s downtown Eastside is the centre point of Canada’s poorest and most problematic postcode. Homelessness, mental illness, drug and alcohol abuse, street prostitution and petty crime don’t hide in the back-alley’s here – they surround you on the street. In many ways, this is where Vancouver’s enslaved live and try to survive. While some of these people are enslaved by poor choices, others are enslaved by circumstance (abusive families, historical racial prejudice, low wages, no affordable housing – circumstances as uncontrollable as a famine in Canaan). As we crammed ourselves into a stuffy, overcrowded room with no windows we read the early chapters of the Moses narrative in Exodus that directly follow the Joseph narrative.
The Israelites are still enslaved thanks to Joseph, but they were fruitful and filled the land (E 1:7). Out of fear of being overrun the Egyptian King oppresses the Israelites, but they continue to grow (E 1:8-14). Plan B, the King employs a plan of national genocide to stop the Israelites taking over (E 1:16). Enter Moses, a child who should have fallen victim to the genocide, but instead grows up in Pharaoh’s household (E 2:1-16). One day, Moses goes out and sees where his own people were and the slave labour they endured. The oppression Moses sees has such an impact on him, he kills an Egyptian that is beating an Israelite (E 2:11) and the result is he flees to a foreign country (E 2:15). Years pass, yet the Israelites are still enslaved and God is concerned for his people (E 2:23-25). ‘The tears of the oppressed’ are again heard by God and he sends Moses to bring the Israelites out of Egypt (E 3:7-10).
In contrast to Joseph who climbs the ladder from powerlessness to power, Moses walks (or runs?) away from his place of privilege in the Egyptian royal household. With some convincing from God, Moses in an act of solidarity goes back to his people in Egypt. The request to “let my people go” is denied, and so at the age of 80, God sends Moses to announce his resistance to Pharaoh by delivering the 10 plagues. After Egypt is decimated, God brings liberation to his people and allows them to escape to the desert, bringing the red-sea crashing down on Pharaoh’s pursuing army. Solidarity, Resistance, Liberation. The way God rescues his people out of slavery in Egypt!
Is this the way God in the world today?
The louder and longer heard voices in my life have not emphasised a God, who through his people, would seek to transform the power structures of our societies and our planet that enslave people. Instead, God is shown to be someone who transforms individual lives by bringing them salvation from sin, some level of sanctification and potentially but not always some personal or family spiritual healing and transformation. All wonderful and valuable things!
But, are we cheapening the freedom that Jesus paid in blood for us to have?
The following quote is something I read earlier in the year from an interview in Christianity Today, it wasn’t used in the course. I’m not sure N.T. Wright is advocating a Liberation Theology here, but his comments do point towards how the church has devalued the good news Jesus came to bring.
… that distinction is one that we modern Westerners bring to the text rather than finding in the text. Because the great emphasis in the New Testament is that the gospel is not how to escape the world; the gospel is that the crucified and risen Jesus is the Lord of the world. And that his death and resurrection transform the world, and that transformation can happen to you. You in turn can be part of the transforming work. That draws together what we traditionally called evangelism, bringing people to the point where they come to know God in Christ themselves, with working for God's Kingdom on earth as it is in heaven. …
The key to mission is always worship. You can only be reflecting the love of God into the world out of overflowing self-giving love. The more you look at that God and celebrate that love, the more you have to be reflecting that overflowing self-giving love into the world.”
There is only one guy at Regent qualified to teach this course. Read more about Dave Diewert and his life spent in Solidarity, Resistance and Liberation.
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