Weird Epiphanies – A Reflection on Genesis 37:1-11

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Dreams are visions in the night, abstract interpretations of the moods and events of our life. The band Counting Crows called them “films about ghosts.”[i] That’s about right. Dreams in the night are seldom understood, almost never become reality, are hard to remember, and they can be flat out weird.

Everyone has dreams.

It is the dreams of the day that truly awaken us, not from sleep, but from complacency. The idea that something good is possible, perhaps even near, is empowering. For a moment things make sense. You will never forget those dreams. We call them epiphanies.

Joseph had two dreams, whether in the night or the day, whether awake or asleep we are not told. His dreams were as weird as the ones caused by pizza before bed. But as weird as they were, whether at night or in the day, they were meaningful and awakening. Joseph’s dreams were weird epiphanies.

Joseph’s first dream was about sheaves of grain. He was in the field binding sheaves with his brothers when suddenly the sheaves came to life. Joseph’s sheaf stood upright and the sheaves of his brothers bowed down to Joseph’s sheaf. In the second dream the cosmic bodies; the sun, the moon, and eleven stars bowed down to Joseph.

There are people who believe dreams have meaning. They believe that dreams are subconscious messages, telegraphs from your inner man. If that is true then my inner man is thoroughly confused and not very creative. I have had the same five or six dreams about a hundred times, at least twice a month, for several years.

I have a dream that I’m still in High School and half the semester is over before I realize there is one class on my schedule I have never attended. But I can’t find my schedule, I can’t open my locker, and I’m lost in the middle of the hallway. I’m not sure which class it is; I just know I haven’t been. That dream makes me anxious because I know that if I haven’t been to class I’m going to fail. I fear failure.

I have another dream that makes me anxious. I’m standing in the pulpit rambling about something, trying not to look stupid, trying to buy some time. I’m trying to buy time because I can’t find First Samuel in the Bible. I’ve told everyone in the congregation to turn to First Samuel, but I can’t find First Samuel. I have no idea why it is always First Samuel but my inner man has a Bible that is missing First Samuel. And so I am standing there embarrassed, disheveled, thankfully fully clothed (you’ve had that dream too), stressing out because no matter how many times I thumb through my inner man’s Bible, there is no First Samuel. Because of that dream I never buy a Bible unless it has a built in tassel system.

I have dreams about being chased. Someone is chasing me, I have no idea who they are, they never catch me, but I am scared of them. I really hate that dream. For some reason my dreams always take place in settings from my childhood. It is always the house I grew up in, my home church, my old school. I may be married in my dream, and have the family I have now, but for some reason my inner man thinks we moved back in with my parents. That would be my dad’s nightmare. I agree.

If dreams are telegraphs from our inner man, I’m not getting the message. If dreams have meaning then is my subconcience telling me that I am a very fast phobic runner with no class? Or do my dreams mean that I left a Bible at my parents house when they moved in ’93? Maybe my inner man is telling me to always get dressed and use a well placed tassel before preaching from First Samuel. Dreams are flat out weird.

When Joseph shared his dreams with his family they knew exactly what they meant, and it didn’t go well. The dreams meant that his family would one day bow down to Joseph. One day they would submit to him. His brothers hated him for his dreams and they envied him. Joseph’s father rebuked him, but he kept the dreams in his mind. Joseph’s dreams were weird epiphanies that something radical was about to change his family.

Most people think of the fulfillment of their dream as an event. They think their dreams point toward a moment in their life when something good is going to happen. But if we think of our dream as an event, it can lead to misinterpretation. Joseph and his family saw the dream as a moment when they would bow down to Joseph. No one cared to know why they would bow down, they were just angry about the event. So they hated the thought, and hated Joseph. Now humility, unity, appreciation, reconciliation – family, brotherhood, is the furthest thing from their minds.

Now the dream is no longer an event, but a journey.

What is going to change about Joseph to make him worthy of his dreams? What will happen in his life that will position him to fulfill his dreams? He is definitely not there now and the hatred of his family makes it seem like he is quickly losing ground. What is going to change in Joseph’s brothers that will replace the hatred in their hearts with admiration? What will happen in Joseph’s father that will turn rebuke into respect?

Dreams are not events. Dreams are journeys.

I read a story about a missionary who was preparing to return home after serving many years in Africa. On her last day the tribe gathered to present gifts to their departing friend. One man presented her with an unbecoming shell. The missionary, however, recognized the value of the shell. It was a shell that could only be found in an area several weeks journey from the village. When asked about the shell, the man stated that the journey was the gift.[ii]

And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to His purpose for them. For He knew His people in advance, and He chose them to become like His son, so that His son would be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. Romans 8:28-29

To love God is an epiphany. To love God awakens us to the possibility that despite ourselves, despite our past, despite what has happened, something good is not possible, but promised. To know God has a vision for our life is empowering. To become Christ-like will require a journey.

To love God and know that everything works for good is a weird epiphany. Some things just don’t seem to fit the vision. If God wants us to become Christ-like, then why are children born to alcoholic fathers and abusive families? How can childhood pain possibly help a person live like Jesus? Does “all things” include a broken heart or a killer hurricane? It must. But how can people in a trauma unit be on a path toward good? It would not be surprising if the Bible said that God used good things for our good. But the Bible doesn’t say that God uses good things, the Bible says that God uses all things. The thought that God uses all things for good provokes questions that are almost impossible to answer. If God could only use good things then it would be easier to say that since evil exists there is no God. But since the Bible tells us that God uses all things it is much harder to ignore Him. Ironically, when bad things are happening almost everyone asks for God’s help. There are no easy answers to the problem of evil. Given the world in which we live and the things that happen to people, it is a thought that is hard to interpret.

Interpretation is a journey.

If all things work for good, that means some of the most horrible things in our lives can become a conduit for the dream. Most of the time, dreams do not make sense, but some people believe they all have meaning. Sometimes the things that happen to us don't make sense, but the Bible tells us even confusing events have meaning. Dreams are hard to interpret, so is life. How can being hated by your family possibly be a step in the right direction? According to Romans 8:28 and 29, God must now work with hatred in order to bring about good, but how? Ironically God uses hatred as an occasion for Joseph’s journey to begin. The hatred of his brothers becomes a part of the path. And for Joseph, the next step in the journey toward good is a nightmare.

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[i] I went back and listened to the song that I thought this line came from. The lyric is actually “If dreams are like movies then memories are films about ghosts.” But I like what I wrote so much that I think they should go back and change the song to fit my blog. They have probably sold a million copies of Mrs. Potter and nine people read my blog regularly, I think that’s a reasonable expectation on my part. In any event I would like to thank Counting Crows for the thought that made me think what I thought their song actually said.
[ii] NIV Application Commentary, Genesis


Anonymous said…
Can't wait to be back at RBC!

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