Ohhhhh, I am behind on everything! No time to waste!
God starts pulling out the miracles on this one. Moses is still expressing his doubts that the people should listen to him, so God turns his rod into a serpent (and back again) and also tells Moses to tuck his hand into his clothes. When Moses draws his hand out of his bosom, it is white as snow, appearing ill. He repeats the process and the hand returns to normal. Ta-da!
Still Moses expresses his doubts. “I am slow of speech,” he says, in Exodus 4:10, and God just tells him, “Look, I made your mouth. I’m the one who decides who is mute or deaf or blind. If I say you can do it, just do it.”
Moses: “Couldn’t you just send someone else?”
God: “Oh, for My sake…” God rubs His eyebrows and sighs. “Look, you don’t always have to take everything so literally… I just… Fine. I’ll spell it out for you: You tell your brother Aaron what to say and he’ll do the talking. He will be your mouth.”
Moses finally gets the picture, and having been told by God that no one in Egypt still has it out for him, he bids farewell to Jethro and returns to the land of his birth. God warns Moses that He will “harden [Pharaoh’s] heart, so that he will not let the people go” (Exod 4:21). This one I had to look up.
Matthew Henry makes the point that
“Pharaoh had hardened his own heart against the groans and cries of the oppressed Israelites; and now God, in the way of righteous judgment, hardens his heart against the teaching of the miracles, and the terror of the plagues. But whether Pharaoh will hear, or whether he will forbear, Moses must tell him, Thus saith the Lord.”¹
I find this part super interesting because a point of contention in the past between myself and my partner is the way that people understand/accept or fail to understand/accept God. What I’ve heard from her and from other Christians in the past is a belief that everyone, every single person, essentially will have God revealed to them and has a choice to make. I agree and I disagree.
The teachings of Christianity have been around for over a thousand years now, but there were not always central churches. Those grew and came later. Once things got organized, people went around farther and farther to spread the word. My point is, a thousand years ago in the middle of Africa or China, or North America for that matter, what experience did anyone have with the God of Abraham?
There is an old joke or apocryphal story that goes like this:
A missionary travels to a remote village to spread the gospel. He talks with everyone there about Jesus, telling them that if they do not accept Jesus into their hearts, they will burn in hell for all eternity. Before the missionary leaves, the tribal elder asks, “What if we had never heard about Jesus? Would we still burn in hell?” The missionary replies, “No, I suppose you would go to heaven for all eternity,” to which the elder replies “Then why the hell did you tell us!?”
Do I believe that we can all experience the numinous, that we can all experience awe and come face-to-face with infinity? Truly, any human being that has looked to the stars at night has probably felt this feeling, no matter where they are in the world. When we gaze deeply into a pool of water, focus our attention on a flower or a lover, when we turn our attention inward and lose the boundaries between ourselves and the world… we experience what Christians call the Holy Spirit, we perceive the feeling of God.
But I don’t think that this is enough if we accept the belief that God has specific rules and desires for us. If God wants us to behave a certain way, then why do we have so many different cultures with different beliefs? Why do we have polytheism and ancestor worship and whatever else? And what is to become of these people? The article I mentioned cites several verses that seem to answer this question but I do not know them in context.
If we accept the Bible as literal, through-and-through, then we have problems. Specifically, John 14:6.
Jesus said to him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.“
Jesus says that the only way to God is through Him. So what of all those people that never got the chance to hear about Jesus? It would not be fair to condemn them to an eternity in Hell if they didn’t get the memo. And if they’re not going to be condemned to Hell specifically because of their ignorance then why tell them about Jesus in the first place?
The author of 500 Questions makes this point in his article:
“If the ignorant are excused from sin and wrath, then the first rule of Christianity should be ‘Don’t talk about Christianity,’ because it only brings condemnation.”
Even if you make the point that there are “natural laws” or our conscience or whatever that gives us a sense of right and wrong, even this is a product of culture and time. To the ancient Greeks, homosexuality wasn’t even a thing, for example. Hell, even in America, prior to the 70s and 80s there was no grand polyamorous or promiscuous homosexual subculture to be condemned by modern conservatives. In other parts of the world and in other times, people learn values, morals, and ethics according to their culture and what they are taught by their parents and their society. Hell again! Americans pledge allegiance to their country and the flag every day in schools and I’ve heard some people from other countries who see this common ritual as horrifying, smacking of blind nationalism.
Do I agree that everyone can find peace, love, and acceptance within themselves? Absolutely. Different cultures have different styles of prayer and meditation, but overall I feel that we all reach out or reach in to the same transcendental states. Our experience of these states and the feelings we find within are subjective, shaped by our experience and our worldview.
And what happens if we feel this feeling in a church? In a forest? In a mosque? What are we to believe?
And beyond that, what if we never feel this feeling at all, or only very faintly because we are lost, alone, and have just been beaten down and s*** on our entire lives? Or what if we have been broken more slowly, sat in front of a television from a young age, never finding joy in the natural world or the vast infinite potential within ourselves?
I’m going to share with you the most sacrilegious song I can think of because it helps illustrate my point. In my world, God has a sense of humor, so I apologize if in yours He does not. Not much I can do about that. Warning: serious language and blasphemy!
In this song, people living in Africa sing about all the things that trouble them, and finish by shouting “Hasa diga Eebowai!” We (and the horrified Mormon missionaries) learn that this means “F*** you, God!” See what I mean about sacrilegious?
But the thing is, even though this song is played for comedic effect, there are people who feel this way! You’ve probably met some of them. There are people who are angry at God, who resist God, who deny God for various reasons. How, pray tell, is a person like that supposed to accept a kind and loving God?
In my view, this lack of acceptance of God comes from a misunderstanding of the very concept of God. I’ve said it before: God is not a genie who grants wishes. I don’t even see God as a person, certainly not the Caucasian bearded male of old European art. Now, Jesus was a person, yes… but that’s another part of the Trinity. The same and different, I get it.
If God is a force, an eternal infinite Being that resides within all of us and everything, then honestly we have no problems. This view of God, my view of God, leads to peace and acceptance of what is. There are no “shoulds” and “should-nots” in my world. In the human view, could the world be better? Yes, of course. We have so much suffering and so many hurt and downtrodden and victimized people…
However!! (I had a point a long time ago, and I’m getting back to it, I swear.) JUST LIKE GOD HAD HARDENED PHARAOH’S HEART, knowing that Pharaoh would bring more suffering, this was a natural consequence of Pharaoh’s actions. Pharaoh was not about to suddenly and miraculously have a change of heart; the Israelites had to endure their trials and things had to happen the way they did and so on and so on down the line until Jesus and so on until TODAY! (See? Told you.)
BUT! Just as God is the impetus for all the events of the universe, these events and all the participants are of and within God. God hardens the heart of the Pharaoh even in the face of miracles, Old-Testament-style turning rods into snakes and s***.
If Pharaoh’s heart can be hardened against a miracle, then so too can the hearts of men be hardened against God through no fault of their own. It is simply the way of the world.
The “eternal punishment” of these people is that they shall burn in the fires of their own jealousy, anger, and fear for the entirety of their lives. They will find misery and will be unsure and unknowing of their place in the universe; they will resist life and all its wonders.
However! Those that learn, understand, and accept God will find peace in the Now, will find acceptance of the present moment and their circumstances, and will be blessed with a worldview where everything is indeed perfect, a life that some would call “Heaven.” The human part of me sometimes rejects or resists my circumstances, but the spark of infinite “divine” awareness flows with these moments and finds the silver linings where the human mind sees only clouds.
Accepting God requires a subjective understanding of God; God must be taught to people in a way that makes sense to them. When I talk to God, when I pray and when I listen, there is both humor and seriousness. I see the absurdity of life, the lack of provable objectivity in the universe, the limitations of science and of faith and God has met me halfway. He has presented himself in a way that I understand and accept. Some Christians say that this will eventually happen to everyone. To me, that is unknowable. All I can say for certain is that it has happened to me.
Good day, all. Peace be upon you.
¹ Henry, Matthew. http://www.christnotes.org/commentary.php?com=mhc&b=2&c=4