Joseph – Arrogant or Naïve? or perhaps more aptly titled… “Me? Naïve?”

As many of you know, I have spent the last 5 months studying and writing about Joseph, the son of Jacob, for Faith Quest, our church’s summer camp for kids. Each year, at the beginning of summer, our pastors begin teaching about the same character we will explore at Faith Quest. As I await the sermons, I vaccilate between joyful expectation and fearful anticipation. While I love to hear the pastors’ perspective, I also dread finding out I was wrong! Especially considering that, at this point, our script and curriculum are pretty much done…off to the printers…signed, sealed and delivered. During most sermons, you can find me furiously scribbing notes and practically holding my breath, hoping the pastors don’t drop a theological bomb that obliterates any premise on which our script is founded, because by now the teenage cast is already memorizing lines! All this after the script was already read and approved by one of the pastors. Wow…maybe I need a vacation.

Somehow, in the midst of all that Sunday morning mania, God speaks to me. The question from recent sermons that keeps coming back to me is: “Do I think Joseph is arrogant and prideful or naïve and innocent?” Well…can it be that both are true? Can’t naïve people also be arrogant, know-it-alls? I mean, seriously, why are they so naïve anyway? Could it be because they fail to see outside themselves and their own limited perspective?

The description of someone as naïve often presumes a sort of innocence, but I think this presumes too much. After all, none of us is really innocent and all of us are, on some level, selfish and prideful. Sure, there is the kind of naiveté of those who’ve never been exposed to certain sins, horrors, darkness and evil, but that is not the naiveté I am talking about. Nor is it the kind one could attribute to Joseph. He had been exposed to all sorts of evil and sin. There is no way he was unaware of his father’s, mothers’ or brothers’ rivalries, sin and jealousy – unless he was stupid, which he was not.

I think Joseph was naïve because, in a way, he chose to be so. In my studies, one of the commentators (at this moment I can not remember who or what book but it belonged to my pastor and I’ve since returned it to him) addressed this issue of Joseph’s naiveté very well. Here’s the jist or at least what I remember: Naïve people often go about their business oblivious to the effect they are having on others, or perhaps they see the effect, but don’t understand the cause or take the time to address it. This, however, does not lessen the effect or absolve the person from some level of responsibility. And no, being naïve about being naïve does not excuse you from being naïve.

So when I caught myself thinking, “Wow. Glad I’m not naïve,” I figured that was a red flag. And surprise, surprise! Guess who is a little naïve about being naïve?

I hear you asking me “However is it that you, Nichole, could be naïve? You are so well versed, experienced, wise and perceptive!” Ahahahhahaha! I make myself laugh! My goodness! It wasn’t until I was in my 30’s that I realized my grandmother’s warning to “never put your hand down the sink drain, even if the garbage disposal is off because there is a button inside it that could turn it on by accident” was a well-intentioned lie. You can imagine how hard my husband laughed when he broke the news and told me the truth!

You see, my first instinct is to take everyone at their word. Why, after all, would anyone say anything other than the truth? That last question may be the very reason I am not good at strategy games. I mean really – spending hours trying to figure out a way to trick someone or trying to anticipate how they are going to trick me? Oh honestly! I just don’t have what it takes for that kind of thinking.

But does this mean I am innocent? That I do no wrong? Or hurt others less than not-so-naïve people do? Of course not. It just means that I always get caught!!! Or more specifically, I lack ingenuity, sophistication and the ability to hide my emotions or beguile anyone. When I sin and hurt people, it’s simple, obvious and not very clever – but it’s still wrong.

In recent years, I have found myself in more than one of what we’ll call “working relationships” (that actually have nothing to do with my job) where I believe the people I was partnering with were, in some way or another and for some reason or another, threatened by me. “Ridiculous!” you say. And so did I. But again, isn’t that just naïve? Before I even knew I had stepped on a person’s toes, he or she was already biting mine off.  A good friend warned me to never fight back and to see such people as “a threatened, cornered, fearful animal.” This was wise advice, though difficult to follow when said animal follows you down the street snapping at your heels until you are clear out of town!

My refusal to accept the fact that some people might be threatened by me only complicated matters. And while it may seem like humility, it was really nothing but naiveté or perhaps chosen ignorance. And maybe even a little bit of pride? Didn’t C.S. Lewis explain how some forms of warped humility are really just pride in disguise? And wasn’t I arrogant to think that I couldn’t possibly threaten anyone? After all I am so humble and just want to be loved. Yet, even if (and I say if) that were true, I am also strong-willed, forceful, determined and will gladly take the lead where others fail to do so. So do you think there’s the slightest chance that my actions might have, once or twice, conveyed the message “Hey lady, you’re not cutting it. I’ll take over from here.”? And, well, might that be exactly what I was thinking?

Arrogant. Prideful. Naïve. Joseph, I feel like I know you so well!

Joseph may not have been guilty of any intentional, well-planned, sophisticated sin, but I think he was guilty, as we all are, of thinking too much of himself and failing to see (or refusing to see) not only the effect of his actions, but the reality of the lives of those around him. Did he stop to think about the effect his coat or his dreams would have on his brothers? If not, why didn’t he? And if yes, then, goodness gracious, why did he act as he did? Just about anyone who reads the story is immediately struck by his lack of restraint. We find ourselves screaming silently at the pages, “Joseph, are you crazy? Are you stupid? Are you asking for trouble?” In my opinion, there is only one answer: in his pride he couldn’t resist and in his arrogance and naiveté he failed to foresee the results of his actions. 

What an excellent word of caution to us. We must always and ever be looking to God for his wisdom and direction because on our own we are consumed and blinded by our very selves. Pride is insidious, seeping into and discoloring the fibers of our richly woven being. Even in our humility we may be arrogant. Even in our naivete we may be hurtful. But thankfully, God is with us, and His thoughts are higher than our thoughts and His ways better than our ways.

I think in God’s time, He has cleansed us once, for good. The work is finished. For eternity, we are clean. But here and now, inside of this dimension we call time, we are still in the process of being cleansed. Are you naive? Ask him to help you see clearly and be on the lookout for every mucky thing in your life; then the let the Lord wash it clean. He may need to scrub a little, or a lot, and sometimes it’ll hurt. But remember how soft the skin and sweet the smell of a baby just after a bath? Ahhhh…it’s worth it!

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