Bible study on Genesis: These are the Effects of a Guilty Conscience
Author: Carol Gachiengo 22 Apr 2022
A talk by Fr Joseph Edattu, VC
This Bible study is a continuation of our reflection on the life of Joseph in the Book of Genesis. We continue from Genesis 42:19.
“If you are honest men, let one of your brothers stay here where you are imprisoned. The rest of you shall go and carry grain for the famine of your households” (Genesis 42:19).
Joseph knew that if all his brothers remained imprisoned, his father would die, since he also needed food. Therefore, it was necessary that they return home with grain. This is the attitude of God. Sometimes blessings are blocked, but it is God’s desire that we should be blessed, because God loves us, just like Joseph loved his brothers and his father. Though he wanted them to go through the consequences of their own sin, so that they may be led to repentance, at the same time Joseph had a desire that his family be protected. On one hand he wants justice and on the other hand he wants to show mercy. Mercy and justice go together. This is the nature of God. He will take care of every human need, while making sure that justice is done.
“and bring your youngest brother to me. Thus, your words will be verified, and you shall not die.” And they agreed to do so” (Genesis 42:20).
Their youngest brother was Joseph’s youngest brother. Joseph had only one brother from his mother and so he wanted to meet this brother, Benjamin.
As the story unfolds, …
“They said to one another, “Alas, we are paying the penalty for what we did to our brother; we saw his anguish when he pleaded with us, but we would not listen. That is why this anguish has come upon us” (Genesis 42:21).
When there is a problem, all the hidden things inside us immediately come out. Twenty years prior, their brother, Joseph, pleaded with them not to sell him. But they did not show any mercy and compassion to him. Now the same brothers are pleading in front of him and he doesn’t seem to be showing any mercy, but in fact he is. Their journey itself is a mercy of Joseph, but they don’t understand it as a mercy. This is how our lives are. Whatever we have—our family, our lives, our journey, our job—is a mercy of God. But we don’t recognize that it is a mercy; We see these as punishment, a burden, or something the Lord is doing against us.
It’s because of the mercy of Joseph that his brothers were able to return home after acquiring the grain. But they thought it was punishment. They did not recognize the mercy that was given to them. Many of us do not realize that God is so merciful; that we are receiving mercy each day. Many things happen around us every day, but God gives us one more day, one more chance, one more healing, one more deliverance etc. It’s all because of God’s mercy. We don’t deserve it, but God gives it to us. However, instead of looking at the mercy, we look at what is lacking and say, “why is God punishing me?” “Why is God not listening to me?”
Your sin shall return on your own head
“Then Reuben answered them, “Did I not tell you not to wrong the boy? But you would not listen. So now there comes a reckoning for his blood” (Genesis 42:22).
When they were committing sin (by selling Joseph), they were very united, but when they faced a problem, they became divided, and arguments ensued among themselves. Those who are united in committing sin, will never be united when they encounter a problem. For instance, many gangsters come together and do evil, but when the police show up, their real characters are revealed and divisions begin. Similarly, for 20 years, Joseph’s brothers seemed to be united, but when they came to Egypt and encountered Joseph, they started accusing and blaming each other, because this secret was hidden inside of them for all those years.
Many husbands and wives seem initially to be united when they make decisions, but when something goes wrong, they say, “did I not tell you not to do this?” “No, you did it!” “Your son did it.” etc They forget that they loved each other and had the child together. But now that there is a problem, they blame each other. Such is a characteristic of human beings. When there is a problem, everybody wants to wash their hands off. Similarly, in this verse, Ruben is trying to wash his hands off and say that he is not responsible for the problem.
Someday, we too will be forced to wash our hands off because the sin which we committed in the past will come back to haunt us. That is, if we don’t repent and confess it to God. In Obadiah 1:15 we read, “For the day of the Lord is near against all the nations. As you have done, it shall be done to you; your deeds shall return on your own head.” It will not go to the neighbour’s head by mistake. Surely, It will fall on your own head, even if you are standing in the midst of thousands of people.
A guilty conscience gives no rest
A guilty conscience will see every problem as a punishment. When something happens to you, you will connect it to your past deeds and think that it’s because of your past deeds that you are being punished based on your present situation. Joseph’s brothers immediately connected their tragedy to their action of selling their brother. It was not that they suddenly remembered their brother after 20 years. These ten brothers had been going through the consequences of their own sin for the last 20 years because of their mischievous act of selling their own brother. The biggest punishment a sinner can get is a guilty conscience. He cannot sleep well.
Fr Joseph said that in the United States, there is a special fund called the Federal Conscience Fund, where citizens can freely deposit money. Many people who cheat the government by not paying taxes, not paying for tickets on public transport, etc., after some time feel guilty about it. To overcome the guilt, the government has told such people that they are free to make payments into the fund. It is said that a certain gentleman sent a letter to the fund saying, “I have not paid my tax in the last several years. I am not able to sleep because of the guilt, therefore I am sending this money.” And he sent $100 and said, “if I still can’t sleep, I will send the rest of the money.”
It is part of human nature that if we don’t do the penance for the sins we have committed and if we feel that our sins are not forgiven, then there will be a reaction in our body, mind and soul. This is called guilty conscience. If you have a guilty conscience, you will connect anything that goes wrong in your life with your sin. That is why we have the Sacrament of Confession in the church. We go and kneel in front of the priest and confess our sins, and the priest absolves our sins. When we hear someone who represents God himself say to us, “Your sins are forgiven, go in peace,” it’s the biggest relief a human being can get.
Fr. Joseph said he used to believe that people felt so much relief after their sins were forgiven. But his faith in this increased greatly when he had an encounter with a gentleman who attended a retreat. The gentleman’s wife wanted him to go for Confession on the first day of the retreat. Confessions were heard on the evening of the first day, but he didn’t participate. On the afternoon of the second day the gentleman came to Fr. Joseph and said:
“Father, I want to make my Confession.”
(Father) “You didn’t make your Confession yesterday?”
(Man) “I don’t believe in Confession.”
(Father) “Do you believe now?”
(Man) “No. I don’t believe in Confession even now.”
(Father) “Then why are you coming for Confession?”
(Man) “Father don’t look, but behind me, my wife is watching me. She has forced me to come for Confession, and she’s not giving me peace of mind. I can’t stay with her without Confession. So please listen to my Confession, Father.”
(Father) “I don’t want to do a drama.”
(Man) “No Father, if I come for Confession, I will make a sincere Confession; I have prepared.”
And he showed Fr. Joseph a piece of paper and said, “these are my sins which I’m going to confess. I have prepared very well.” Fr. Joseph agreed to hear his Confession since he had at least prepared, even though he didn’t believe. He made a very good, detailed and sincere Confession, even though he did not believe in it. After he finished, Fr. Joseph said he did not know what to say since the man did not believe in Confession. The Lord inspired Fr. Joseph to say, “Don’t worry, Jesus has forgiven all your sins unconditionally. Your sins are forgiven unconditionally.”
Fr. said within seconds, the man burst into tears and started crying so loudly, and he thinks that those who were outside could hear him. In between the crying the man said, “No one ever told me this,” because he had never heard the words “I forgive you all your sins unconditionally,” and that had shaken him. He started kneeling, crying, bowing, prostrating—he didn’t know what to do. Fr. said he is sure this man will never fail to go to Confession again, and that this in fact increased Fr. Joseph’s own faith in Confession, though he of course believed in it.
We need to hear this statement from a person who stands in the place of Christ: “I forgive you unconditionally.” Unless and until we hear this, knowingly or unknowingly, our guilty conscience will follow us, making us think whenever anything goes wrong: “that person has done this to me,” “this person has done this to me,” “it is because of that incident that I am going through this.” Etc.
We will blame, as we saw Joseph’s brothers do when something went wrong, connecting it to something that happened 20 years prior. This means they were still carrying the guilty conscience. If only they had repented and cried to God and said, “God forgive us!” If only they had confessed to their father and said “Father, we have cheated you. In fact, your son is not killed, your son is sold. We don’t know where he is; Please forgive us.” If only they had confessed their sin, they would not have experienced this guilty conscience all through their lives. But they carried this guilt for more than 20 years and it affected their relationships. They were no longer united. They were no longer happy in their daily lives. We see in this chapter that they are not able to adjust and accept each other, but instead everyone is washing off their hands and saying, “You are responsible.”
Jesus understands us
“They did not know that Joseph understood them, since he spoke with them through an interpreter” (Genesis 42:23).
Often, this is our situation. When we go through struggles we cry, “Where are you God?” “I’m feeling guilty.” “Why have you abandoned me?” But we don’t realize that God understands us. Jesus understands us; He knows us. He understands everything that happens in our lives. Many a times when we go through struggles, we tend to think that God doesn’t know us. But He understands us. Sometimes we have interpreters, but God doesn’t need interpreters. When the interpreter was interpreting the conversation between the brothers and Joseph from Hebrew to the Egyptian language, Joseph already understood everything in Hebrew, but they didn’t realize that he knew their language. Sometimes we think God doesn’t know English, but God knows all the languages, even our mental language – what is going on in our minds and hearts. God knows every detail.
“He turned away from them and wept; then he returned and spoke to them. And he picked out Simeon and had him bound before their eyes” (Genesis 42:24).
Joseph went to another room and cried bitterly because he had compassion and love for them, but at the same time, God was making him behave as such. This behaviour (picking out Simeon and bounding him) was permitted by God because these ten brothers had to go through the consequence of their own sin to lead them to repentance, as they had not repented up until now. All of them knew what had happened to Joseph. They hid everything from their father Jacob and lied to him. But they could have at least told the king that one of their brothers was sold, that he was not killed but was sold. Then the king would have been able to help them. But they said to Joseph, “he is no more.” They lied to the king even when they had the opportunity to tell the truth. They may not have been able to tell their father the truth, but they could have done so to the king, because it was something that happened 20 years prior. But they lied and therefore they had to go through the purification process.
Whatever Joseph went through in slavery they are now going through in their anguish. That is why the Bible says, “your deeds shall return on your own head.” Joseph was sold into slavery. Later all his brothers came and settled in Egypt, and all of them and their children were slaves for 430 years. They became slaves in Egypt because that’s how they reached Egypt in the first place, through the sin of having sold their own brother into slavery. As a result, the whole family went into slavery.
Be still and see the hidden blessings
“Joseph then gave orders to fill their bags with grain, to return every man’s money to his sack, and to give them provisions for their journey. This was done for them (Genesis 42:25).
What they gave, they got back. Not only that, but Joseph gave extra provisions. As they were going back, they didn’t know about the extra provisions in the bags. When we walk, we don’t realize we are not only blessed, but we are blessed with extra. As they were going back, the brothers thought that they had lost the money or at least paid and gotten the grain. They did not realize that they hadn’t lost anything. When God gives to you, you never lose anything. You not only gain, but you get extra gain. In our life’s journey, we don’t realize how blessed and protected we are. We may have to open our sacks and look inside and then we will come to know. Many of us have no time to look inside our sacks; We are busy looking at others’ sacks, and as such, we don’t know how much we are blessed with.
Joseph is standing in the place of Jesus. He gave orders to fill their sacks with grain. Whatever they asked for, God gave them. But He gives extra. Whatever you have lost, He gives you back, just like the Prodigal Son, when he came back and his father said, “give him back everything that he has lost.” Besides, extra love was given to him. He didn’t deserve any love but his father gave him extra love which he never expected.
Everyone who is on a journey, just open your sack which you carry. There, you will see the blessings hidden inside the grain. And when you open it again you will see extra provisions given to you. Often, we don’t have time to look at these provisions. Whenever you have time, just stand still on your journey. Stand still “and know that I am God.” He is in charge. The hidden blessings He has given you are there, inside you. And not just blessings, but extra blessings, because He is the Lord of provisions. He is the great provider and He will provide for you. He cares for you.
Sometimes you feel His behaviour is so tough. Joseph’s brothers thought Joseph was very tough, that he was behaving very badly. They didn’t realize that Joseph was in fact showing them mercy, giving them back all that they had lost, and giving them extra provisions. Many a times we feel that God is showing partiality, that He is not doing justice, not listening to us, not blessing us, but that is not true. We don’t realize the truth because we have a guilty conscience. The truth is, if you are ready to stop on your journey for a while and stand still and open your bag, you will see the blessings hidden inside the grain. And if you look again, you will see the extra blessings and provisions hidden inside.
We all need a moment of silence in our lives. We all need a time of reflection and introspection, because there are lots of blessings hidden in our sacks. God has given you lots of blessings from your childhood. Just look back and see how God protected you. God saved you many times from being caught. God saved you many times from death. God has healed you and protected your family members and blessed you with many blessings. Often, we are not so thankful to Him, but instead, we blame Him for His ‘toughness’. Sometimes God seems to be tough because we were tough to Him. We did something wrong. Even though sometimes we feel that God is tough, He is in fact not tough; it is our guilty conscience that is haunting us and causing us to feel that God is tough. Many people hate God because of the negative experiences of their lives, but they don’t realize how much negativity they have caused God. Their guilty consciences cause them to stand against God. If you look into the lives of atheists, you will find that they have so many wounds. These wounds, and the guilty consciences they have, cause them to stand against God.
Joseph was so merciful. He could have killed all of these ten brothers who sold him as a slave. He could have taken revenge on them. But he was so merciful that he gave them back everything that they had lost. And still, they didn’t understand his love and thought he was so cruel.
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