From the Hard, Rock Bottom of my Heart
Girdwood Chapel Sermon, 09/18/2016
“From the Hard, Rock Bottom of My Heart”
Exodus 5: 1-2
2 Timothy 3:8
For most of my adult life I struggled with the reconciliation of God and Science. I was a biology and chemistry major in college and was classified as a scientist for the Air Force for nearly 10 years. I went to graduate school for veterinary science and worked as an epidemiologist for several years. The scientific method was part of my logical operating persona. I was an analytical guy and I accumulated sound information to apply to my educated guess before making a decision. I was not a robot by any means, because amongst this highly analytical mind there was a highly empathetic and open heart. The first time I felt I was called to be a minister was while I was in college over 20 years ago. But, logic told me that was not the path I was supposed to take. My mind; my thought process and accumulation of information told me everything that I was supposed to do, often based on risk. Being a minister, was too risky for many reasons...you might end up in a foreign land, thousands of miles away from the nearest family for instance. Generally, I would choose the safest and most reasonable route. I continued to go to church though. Every Sunday (well, most every Sunday), I heard about a loving and caring God. I heard the story of the crucifixion and the amazing resurrection over and over again. Just as we will do later this morning, I joined in the taking of communion and allowed Jesus direct access to my heart. The problem remained. How is it logical for one man, the walking incarnate God, to die on a cross and to rise from the dead for the salvation of all our sins? It makes no sense. My heart wanted so desperately to believe and to have faith, while my mind applied logic that was a detriment to my ability to go all in. As is true for many of us in our life, I came to a time in my life where several different things were going wrong. Logic could not fix everything and my heart was filled with pain and sadness. My mind was numb and my heart was hard. The standard response from most people who offered help was that God would see me through this, just hang in there and listen to God. In the hardness of my heart, I thought to myself, who is this God I am supposed to obey? How can this God show me love? I don’t know this God. There it was. I was Pharoah.
Who is this God?
When we left off with Moses he had been prepared by God to go free the Israelites from Egypt. As you can remember, he took this assignment somewhat reluctantly and was still unsure about the task ahead. But, while God is preparing Moses, God is also preparing Moses’ opponent, and Moses’ people.
Egypt was a land of many gods. Including Pharoah, there were over eighty deities worshipped in Egypt. Sadly, even while enslaved, many of the Israelites had taken to the worship of these deities and prayed to them for their needs. When Moses shows up on Pharoah’s doorstep and utters the famous words, “the Lord says, ‘Let My people go.’” Pharoah’s response is that of an unimpressed mind and unmoved heart. Pharoah says, “Who is this Lord I am supposed to obey by letting Israel go? I don’t know this Lord and I certainly won’t let Israel go.” (Exodus 5:2) I tend to think that if Pharoah was dramatic in his response to Moses, it would have been more like, “Oh great, there is another god out there that I am supposed to know. Well, I don’t know this one. Have his people call my people and we will have a little sit down over a nice lunch and watch the Israelites make bricks.” The gist here is that Pharoah was unimpressed with the thought of another god. Gods are common in Egypt, so to think he was threatened by another unknown god was not something Pharoah was concerned with.
Pharoah’s words do not only concern his sentiments. Remember, the Bible often lets us in on things before they happen. Therefore, it is no surprise to the discerning reader that the narrative quickly leaves this questioning and turns to the Israelites. The years in captivity have broken their spirit and their relationship with God is faltering. Many are assimilating into the ways and the religions of their captors and abandoning their birthright as the descendents of Abraham. Mind you, this is not a conscious decision, but one that has grown out of their station and out of their plight. My guess, my thought, is that in feeling God has abandoned them, they are beginning to abandon God. (Ezekiel 20: 1-9) So much so, that even upon being set free, they will carry the idols of their other gods into the desert with them. They too, can ask the question, “Who is this Lord I am supposed to obey? I do not know this Lord.” It would seem that the Israelites might have some trust issues that are preventing their faith in God.
Now, Moses has been cast aside, easily I might add by Pharoah. As a result of Moses’ request, the Israelites have been ordered to do more work and are being beaten without mercy by their captors. The Israelites are further frustrated in their relationship with God and have no desire to allow Moses and Aaron to speak for them. Moses is, shall we say, a bit perturbed with God. He throws his hands up in the air and says, “My God why did you send me for this? All I did was make things worse and you made me look like a fool! You made me do this and you, well, you have done absolutely nothing to rescue anybody! Look at this mess!”
Okay, reality check here. Isn’t this basically a narrative of how things go in our lives when they go into that downward spiral. Most ordinary days we go through life unsuspecting and unaffected by the happenings in our own experiences and those in the world around us. There are joyful moments when we ride a wonderful wave of happiness because everything seemed to go just as we had hoped it would and, because of that, we are low on stress and full of contentment. But then, there are those times when one thing goes wrong and it can turn the tide to where it seems that everything that is happening is in direct opposition to your wants, your needs, your hopes, even your existence.
I think our vision can become short sighted once that first thing goes wrong and we start looking for the next thing to go wrong. If that occurs, then we, for some reason, look for something else to go wrong. Somewhere in this train of thought we lose hope and we replace it with doubt. We come to expect the worst outcome, rather than the best. If the undesired outcome occurs, we have a weird satisfaction with the fact that we were right.
Thinking like that, however, has removed God from the equation. That is when we become like Pharoah, that is when I became like Pharoah. For some warped reason our mind makes us believe, it is easier to deal with pain and turmoil in your life if you come to expect it. Hope is something that can cause pain. Love is something that makes us vulnerable. No, I have no faith in this God of hope and love. I do not know this God. Like the Israelites, we can find it easier to abandon God than to trust in God. We can find it easier to worship and idolize lesser things in our life, because they do not require me to give of myself. They are safe and I can be who I want to be and do what I want to do.
Sleight of Hand
The way we reason to ourselves that life can be better apart from God. The way that we are able to state that God is not necessary in our lives. It is all an illusion. It is a magic trick played by one of the greatest artists of deception of all times.
Let’s return to the story of Moses for a moment. As you may remember, as Moses fights to free the Israelites he performs many miracles from God in the court of Pharoah. The first three are: 1. Turning the water of the Nile into Blood, 2. Causing an infestation of frogs, and 3. Rising a swarm of gnats from the desert. In each case, Pharoah is initially shocked by the miracle and then calls upon his religious experts to accomplish the same thing. In the first two cases the experts are able to create something similar “by their secret knowledge”. See, what the religious experts are doing is not the actual miracle performance that Moses is accomplishing through God’s power. No, they are doing a magic show, they are doing things that make it appear as if they have accomplished the same task. According to Paul, the “secret knowledge” of the religious experts was the power to perform “lying wonders” (2 Thess. 2: 9-10) given to them by Satan. (Wiersbe, 39). The power was to imitate or to counterfeit the works of God, but not the ability to perform a miracle in its own right. If they would have had this ability, then the narrative would have likely read that they were undoing the works of Moses rather than copying them. That would have shown power. Yet, we as humans are easily swayed, and like Warren Wiersbe states, “Satan opposes God’s work by imitating it, and in this way he minimizes the power and glory of God.” (Wiersbe, 39).
A Little Deeper Look at the Miracles (Plagues)
I don’t think we should stop there with the miracles though. Let’s go one level deeper. The Bible refers to these miracles as plagues because they are a blow or a strike from God against the Egyptians. The plagues we are looking at today can be classified as distressful plagues, meaning that they caused hardships on the Egyptians but were not inflicted upon them personally or destructive to their culture. They were basically a nuisance to daily life in Egypt.
We read about these plagues and we think to ourselves, wow, how did God come up with these things? I can assure you they were not random. The plagues are direct attacks on the deities that Egypt has claimed to be among their most powerful. The level of importance that the Egyptian culture placed on the Nile made it the largest idol shared among the people there. It was the first idol that God brought down by turning its water into blood, and in doing so, ruined the properties of the river that made it an idol in the first place.
Secondly, the goddess, Heqet, was the goddess of childbirth and fertility in Egypt. In her depiction she was given the head of a frog. I almost see the invasion of frogs as God’s sense of humor, “Ah, you like frogs do ya? Well, here you go.” The frogs drove Pharoah to such a place of discomfort that he called Moses to him and told him that he would comply with his wishes if God would just remove the frogs. It should not be lost on us that when Moses asks Pharoah when he wants this to happen, he answers, “tomorrow”. Pharoah, despite his request, is still trying to trap God. By allowing more time, Pharoah is hoping the frogs clear out on their own and he can say that God is not powerful. By delaying the action, he is hoping that it can’t be done in the time which he set, also proving that God is not powerful. Not surprisingly, the frogs all die at the appointed time and Pharoah goes back on his promise.
This allows God to send the third plague, the gnats. We all know what a horrible nuisance that gnats can be. There is a great symbolism to be found here. The god of the dessert for the Egyptians was Set. Once again, God is going after an insignificant idol of Egypt, but possibly even more importantly, we see that the Religious experts cannot duplicate the plague. They cannot rise gnats up from the soil. Do you see the symbolism? God rose humans from the soil and these religious experts are unable to use their secret knowledge to create the life of even the tiniest of creatures, the gnat. God allows the gnats to leave, but by this time, the court of Pharoah is changing their tune.
Bringing it Home
I think one of the reasons I like the story of the Exodus so much is that it is so relatable and identifiable to our lives today. Everyone of us in here is one of the characters or groups we have discussed today. We can ask ourselves who God is and exclaim that we don’t know God? We can pretend that God is not there by making other things in our lives idols. We can find peace and solace in our decisions to remain distant from God by those illusionists who use deception and trickery to appeal to our hearts desires. We can claim that our life of misery would not be the way it is if there was a God and that God cared. Or, we can be the one that goes out amongst the turmoil and the confusion and lifts his hands to the heaven. Yes, that is right, even in his own despair and agony Moses did not turn away from God he turned toward God. It was that appeal. It was that dialogue that opened Moses eyes to God’s plan.
God is going to work in your life. There will be good days and there will be bad days. There will sometimes be strings of many of both. But, the key to understanding, the key to growing in faith throughout the experiences, is to constantly depend on and to dialogue with God.