THE BEND IN THE ROAD
The Genesis:3 Project
And He said, “I am God, the God of your father. Fear not to go down to Egypt, for I will make you there into a great nation. Genesis 46:3
I still remember the very first instruction I received when I got behind the wheel of a car in driver’s ed. It was “aim high.” In case you haven’t noticed, the driver sits to the side of the car and not in the center. By focusing at a distance as you drive, it is natural to pilot the car down the center of the lane, rather than half-way onto the shoulder.
That longer view also makes you aware of what is on the road ahead and gives you time to adjust to hazards, traffic and living things that might get in your way.
But no matter how high you aim, you can’t see what is coming around the bend.
I am learning that lesson all over again in the USA these days. While some people will tell you otherwise, nobody really foresaw what was around the bend in late October of 2016. Oh, there were people predicting the results of the election, but the rapid deterioration of our political society as our unpredictable President lobs toxic tweets and preposterous proposals is surprising. The Republic will stand, but the challenges to the ability of government to function and even to the sanctity of the Constitution have left a lot of folks, myself included, with worries about restoring the America we believed was unassailable from within. All of us – voters and non-voters of all stripes – did not expect the uncertainty about the future we are now experiencing until the bend in the road was upon us on that Tuesday in November and that Saturday in January.
It is not such a new lesson, as it turns out. The verse that is the context of these ideas comes as the saga of Genesis comes to a close. Joseph is ensconced in Egypt and has invited his family to join him. Jacob is reluctant, but along comes God to encourage him to aim high. Don’t be afraid, he is told. You will be a great nation (not again, but for the first time). And, in the next verse, God assures Jacob that his beloved Joseph will attend his deathbed.
For Jacob, it is a happy ending, and in four chapters it comes true. But Jacob cannot see around the bend, and the bend comes in the very beginning of the next segment of history – a new king arose in Egypt who did not know Joseph and, bang!, the great nation of Israelites is enslaved.
My point is not to compare the President of the United States to Pharaoh. Time will tell (and I hope not much time) how much damage has actually been done to our society and when the people around him will finally stand up to this man intoxicated with the aroma of his own arrogance (thank you, Pastor Michael Walrond). But no matter which statues are left to stand or how many “fine people” yearn for old times there that are not forgotten, sooner or later we will come to our senses and restore the real greatness of America.
My point is that Torah prepares us for this eventuality. Only a novice doesn’t know that God’s reassurance to Jacob is only half the truth. In the moment, Jacob needed to hear that the road ahead was clear or he would not have taken the risk that was necessary to establish the rest of the story. I ask myself, if I had known what was ahead for my great-grandchildren – enslaved for hundreds of years, subjected to harsh labor and oppression, chased into the wilderness to wander for a generation – would I have negotiated for a better arrangement. I like to think I would have.
But now I know how sanguine I have been about the inevitability of American blessing. Having seen us surge back after civil war, economic depression, civil rights struggles and terrorist attacks from the sky, I simply assumed that no matter what, there was no reason to fear; we are a great nation and God is with us. The faults we overlooked, whether they are the continuing disadvantages of one segment of Americans or the disillusionment of another, have consequences that lie around the bend. And the guy behind the steering wheel is not aiming high.
I don’t have the luxury of some American Torah that has revealed the next part of the story. I am living it in real time, just like Jacob, just like the virgin reader of Scripture. But I know to be cautious and not to believe what I want to believe because I am too frightened or arrogant to question and to resist. Scripture commends healthy cynicism about promises of a rosy tomorrow no matter who is making them…including God.