Archive for the ‘Ethics’ Category

God’s Dilemma

October 7, 2017

Everytime I read the story of Moses, the slaves, the Egyptians and the parting of the sea- if I read with expectation and anticipation- there is something new in the story.

 

Read it again, read it as if for the first time  Exodus 13:17-14:31.

What do you notice?

The last time I read this, I noticed the pillar and cloud at first leads the people who will become Israel (will become- because at this point in the story they are a bunch of refugees) out, away from bondage into an unknown future. They have been redeemed- bought and brought out of slavery into a yet to be created future.

Once they are on the shore of the sea, there are two impossible choices. They can walk into the sea or they can stay and wait for the Egyptian army.  Sometimes in life none of our choices are good ones.  Sometimes our choice is between two lousy options.

In the story the pillar moves from in front of the people to behind them, in between the people who will be Israel and the Egyptian army.  The pillar stays there all night. “Bringing darkness to one side and light to the other side”. Which side received the darkness and which the light?

I wonder why the pillar moves and stays between the two groups.  To protect the people who will be Israel? Probably. But I also wonder if God in the pillar also had a word for Egypt.

  “You don’t have to do this.”

 “You can stop right here.”

 “You can turn around and leave.”

 “No one has to die tomorrow.”

“My choosing of these people doesn’t mean I reject you. My choosing of these people doesn’t have to mean your destruction. Beloved, turn around.”

Who waited in the light and who waited in the darkness? Could the Egyptian army have been held in the light?

God chose the people who will become Israel but that choosing of them doesn’t have to mean the rejection, the destruction of others. In fact, God tells Abraham he is the one through whom the rest of the world will be blessed. He is blessed so that he and his descendants can be a blessing to others.

At the same time, God doesn’t compel or force. The people who will become Israel and the people who are the Egyptian army both have a choice to make.

 

I once hear a rabbi ask, “Who is the most tragic figure in the Bible?”  (I wrote about this ten years ago, here and here.)

Who would you say?

His answer was God. Because God never gets what God wants, and God never gets what God deserves. But why doesn’t God get what God wants and deserves?

I wonder if because God decided to be God with and for and through us, that means that God sometimes ends up with two impossible choices?  Egypt or the people who will be Israel?

Do the choices we make leave God with limited options? What if the Egyptian army stopped their pursuit?  What would God have done? What could God have done with that decision?

What if the people who will be Israel didn’t step into the sea? What would God done?

God can do whatever God wants, but if God’s decision was to give us true freedom and choice, didn’t God limit God’s own self?  When we relate to another in freedom, we don’t have complete control over them. When we love another, we don’t want to control them.  So I wonder, do the choices we make, the choices I make leave God with limited options?  What do you think?

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Personal responsibility

June 25, 2017

These days one of the phrases that is popular these days is “Personal Responsibility”. Often it is used in discussions about health care. For example, this Tweet from Mike Pence:

Before summer’s out, we’ll repeal/replace Obamacare w/ system based on personal responsibility, free-market competition & state-based reform

Now I’m all for personal responsibility. It’s what I tried to teach my kids. It’s something I try to practice personally.

But I think we have been misusing the phrase “personal responsibility”, at least from a Christian point of view. Often, even usually, when we say personal responsibility we mean I am taking care of myself. I get to my job on time. I pay my bills. I take responsibility for my actions. That’s a good thing.

Where we slide into error is when we think personal responsibility has to do only with us. When personal responsibility stops with me and with my family, we have a less than Christian understanding of personal responsibility.

For Christians I am also responsible for you. And you for me. When the lawyer asked Jesus, “Who is my neighbor?”, he was asking where does my personal responsibility end?

All of scripture -Cain’s question, “Am I my brother’s keeper?”, through the law and prophets  and certainly the Gospels -the message of scripture is we are to care about and for each other. We are responsible for each other.

You, as it turns out, are my personal responsibility. As is the person across the state from me in Flint. As is the person in Mexico. As is the person in Iraq and North Korea. And like it or not, I am your responsibility. How we exercise that responsibility is both personal and structural.

I can be responsible for my children’s education. But I can’t educate every child I see. I can, along with you, make sure every child has access to a good education. I can take responsibility for my health- as much as is in my control. But I can’t treat every sick person. I can, along with you make sure everyone one has access to and can afford health care. I can feed myself and my family. But I can’t feed everyone I see. I can, along with you, make sure our food supply is safe and accessible. I can, along with you, make sure people are not hungry.

When personal responsibility stops with me, my heart, as Calvin warned, has curved in on itself.  Which is, in fact,a pretty good way to notice sin. How is my heart? Is it turned inward, focused on myself? Or is it opened up, turned outward? Is my heart facing and loving the world?

Personal responsibility, I’m all for it. But for Christians that includes my neighbor, the stranger, the foreigner, and even my enemy.

 

 


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