Continuing my periodic posting of excerpts from my course on building real relationships in the Body, I decided to post this portion from week four, which is dedicated to authenticity. Each week I discuss the topic in the context of the life of Jacob, which turned out to be a wonderfully rich life to study for my purposes. This is, of course, the theoretical part. Practically, the group starts committing to a certain level of openness and vulnerability with each other, so the rubber starts really meeting the road at this point in the process.
Being authentic with others is part of a larger growth in being able to be fully authentic towards God. Most of us are more able to be authentic with God than with others, but growth in one should generally help with growth in the other. The most authentic moment recorded in the life of Jacob was his prayer to the Lord before meeting his brother again after many years. “O God of my father Abraham and God of my father Isaac, O Lord, who said to me, ‘Return to your country and to your relatives, and I will prosper you,’ I am unworthy of all the lovingkindness and of all the faithfulness which You have shown to Your servant; for with my staff only I crossed this Jordan, and now I have become two companies. Deliver me, I pray, from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Esau; for I fear him, that he will come and attack me and the mothers with the children. For You said, ‘I will surely prosper you and make your descendants as the sand of the sea, which is too great to be numbered’” (Gen. 32:9-12). The key word, of course, is Jacob’s admitting he feels “unworthy” of God’s lovingkindness and faithfulness. What exactly does Jacob have in mind? The most reasonable answer in context is Jacob’s conscience over how he deceived his brother. Why else would he be so afraid of meeting him the next day? If he viewed Esau as merely evil and dangerous, Jacob would only have asked for protection against him. If this was indeed what was on his heart that night, then this prayer puts Jacob on about Level 3 of authenticity in our scale, since God was making him aware of how he had not honored his word to his father and thereby stolen his brother’s blessing.
Had Jacob been fully open with God, it would have indicated God working in him on level 4 (challenging him to do something specific), or Level 5 (naming the issue more clearly). I cannot prove this point, but it is my conviction, based on experience, that doing so could have opened his heart to being more authentic with his brother the next day, confessing his sins to him (Level 5) and allowing Esau to express impact of his behavior on him (Level 6). Instead, Jacob’s posture towards Esau the next day was submissive (“I see your face as one sees the face of God, and you have received me favorably”33:10), but not authentic. For his part, Esau was extremely gracious, demonstrating the work God had done in his heart. He had so completely forgiven his brother that he saw no need to bring up the past at all.
Because Jacob did not have the value for authenticity, neither did his sons. As evidence, notice that despite how incredibly gracious Joseph was with them, they still had fear of his retribution once Jacob died (50:15). I believe this fear came from not living an authentic life where they had learned to discuss their sins and struggles openly. One might argue that this was an ancient culture, not like our own in this respect, or that these were men, much less likely to talk as openly as women. After all, even Peter could not bring himself to a decent confession to Christ (Jn. 21:15-17). These may or may not be valid points, but their value is minimal here. The fact that we have enough details to these stories to see these problems speaks of the mature viewpoint of the author, which in fact may have been an older Jacob himself. Notice:
- Jacob knew he had been deceptive in his youth. Why would the author mention Jacob’s deception repeatedly, if it were not to emphasize the very point Jacob mentioned in his prayer above, that God’s lovingkindness and faithfulness are not dependent on our goodness?
- How could the author have mentioned the fear of the brothers towards Joseph if he didn’t understand that their fear was unwarranted? That is, the biblical narrative itself (and not just in this story) is beautifully authentic about its characters’ weaknesses, even when it portrays people’s tendencies to be inauthentic with each other and with God.