Scripture: Exodus 14: 5-6, 9-13a, 15-30 Jan Savory
How do I experience God?
“I don’t believe in that God”
As I read today’s story I was reminded of Marcus Borg, an Anglican Priest, author and University lecturer. Whenever he taught Christianity 101, students would approach him on the first day of lectures to tell him “I don’t believe in God”. He’d ask them to tell them about the God they didn’t believe in. It was usually a vengeful, prejudiced deity. After listening for a while, he’d tell them he didn’t believe n that God either. I feel like that when I read about the God in this story.
The Exodus Story
Let’s look at the story. Two weeks ago, we left Moses with the command from Yahweh, spoken from the burning bush, to demand that Pharaoh free his Hebrew slaves. Pharaoh refused – why would he give up his economic engine? Then God sent a series of 10 plagues, culminating in the killing of the first-born son of every family, after which Pharaoh relented and sent the Israelites away, urging them to hasten their departure. God led them via a round about way through the wilderness, using a cloud by day and a fire by night to guide them towards the Red Sea where they set up camp.
What kind of a God is this?
Back in Egypt, the Pharaoh had a change of heart (or as in Exodus, God “hardened Pharaoh’s heart”) and he sent solders to recapture his slaves. Now the Israelites were between a rock (Pharaoh’s armies) and a hard place (the sea)– just as their God had planned it. The Israelite God wanted to “gain glory” for himself over Pharaoh. Which of course he did, by parting the waters, letting the Israelites cross safely and then drowning the Egyptians when the waters were allowed to flow back!
What kind of a God is this? He lets his Chosen people languish in slavery for over 400 years, then on a whim decides to free them. To do so, he has to persuade the Egyptian king to let them go by sending 10 horrible and deadly plagues on the land and people. Once they are free, he leads them by a round about route travelling day and night to a place where he can set a trap for the Egyptians. He makes Pharaoh change his mind and send armies to follow them so that he can show how much greater he is than Pharaoh. What kind of a God is this?
Where did these stories come from?
The events of the Exodus from Egypt, like all the early books of the Bible, were not written down until hundreds of years after they supposedly happened and like all pre-literary traditions, we have history overwritten with legend and authentic tribal memory. The plagues all could and did happen in Egypt from time to time. The Hebrew name Yam Suph, translated as Red Sea actually means Sea of Reeds and it is thought to be in the marshy tidal area north of the Red Sea; if this is is the case, the effects of tide and wind could cause the water to recede from the swampy ground until, at the next high tide the area became flooded again. All these events could happen and the miracle would be in the timing – or the way stories were strung together.
A capricious, tribal God or a gentler God who loves Justice?
So, what kind of a God do we see in these stories? We see a capricious, anthropomorphic, tribal god. As we read the stories of the Old Testament, we see the view of God changing. By the time of the prophets, we still sometimes see this vengeful tribal God. But we also see a gentler God, more concerned with justice that ritual. A God who wants Israel to be “a light to the gentiles”. Just as with the Israelites, so with us. We experience God according to where we are in our spiritual growth.
How do we experience God?
All this got me thinking – how do we, how do I experience God working in the world today? This is a very personal account of my belief, and is not meant to say it’s how you should believe. But I hope it will get you thinking about how you experience God.
Like Borg, I don’t believe that in the god is of today’s story – a meddling God, swooping in when he feels like it to tweek the laws of the Universe. God doesn’t make dictators demand genocide, or have a tornado demolish my house and leave yours next door standing. But nor do I believe in the Watchmaker god who wound up the world and leaves it alone to run down. There has to be a truth somewhere in between on this continuum.
How do I experience God? As a mentor
The way I experience God, at this stage of my spiritual growth, is as a Mentor. Mentorship is a relationship in which a more experienced or more knowledgeable person, the Mentor, helps to guide a less experienced or less knowledgeable person, the Mentee.
Mentoring vs Coaching
Unlike a coach, who teaches you how to do something, a mentor helps you find your own way to do it. In life, God is mentoring me is to transform me into a vector for bringing in God’s kingdom here on earth
How do I experience God as mentor? In relationship
Mentoring is a relationship – my personal relationship with God. . It takes commitment from both partners. God’s commitment is unquestioned, but how committed am I? It varies! God is always around to guide me, but never forces me against my will. Sometimes the guidance is clear; other times more a subtle nudge – and if I miss the signs, my divine mentor just tries again, in another way, to get the message across! God is very flexible, and even lets me try different ways and changes the message accordingly. Most important, God never gives up and forgives me when I mess up.
How do I experience God? As a guide
Being a Christian is a journey not a destination. God cannot make the journey for me, but can accompamy me on the way. But I must be self reliant, recognising my need for God to guide me rather than to take over. My children wanted help with their homework, but I didn’t help if I did It for them. But just as sometimes we did the homework together, I can rely on God to accompany me in difficult times. That way I learn be more the person God would want me to be to show the fruits of the spirit – love, joy, peace, patience etc.
What do I get from how I experience God?
Is it easy? Sometimes, but not always. Could I do what I do alone? Definitely not. Is it worth it? Most definitely. I become my true self, the person I was created to be and I experience God’s power working in me, doing more that I can ask or imagine. Is that how you experience God? I hope so. Amen