The God who intersects the story
Scripture: Exodus 6-12
There is a verse of instruction that says: ‘…but in your hearts honor Christ the LORD as holy; always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect.’ (1 Peter 3:15). What are my reasons for holding to Christ in faith? There’s the apologetic method, detailing proofs and arguments meant to silence argument and opposition. When I read, give ‘a reason for the hope that is in me’ however, my thoughts go in a different direction. I’m remembering what I felt when God intersected my story.
The Israelites were a wounded people. Slavery had broken their spirit (Ex 6:9). The good years under Joseph lingered only in memory and provided harsh contrast to the current reality. They used to be thought of as saviours of Egypt but now they were only chattel for grunt work, building ancient wonders with the blood of sons and daughters. The chorus of despair that continually burst from their hearts was what stirred God to action on their behalf. He was determined to free them, but first he needed to help them to remember the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
A Professor of Old Testament studies reminded me that the focus of God’s actions throughout the plague narrative is not Pharaoh, but the People of Israel. God ‘plays to the audience’ because He must convince the People of Israel that He is more powerful than Pharaoh; he must help them believe. So he calls Moses with Aaron to provoke Pharaoh. What follows is thoroughly horrific as it escalates from plague to plague. Each time, the tyrant is attacked, and each time, the People of Israel are protected. All this to say to the people clearly, “I am more powerful than Pharaoh.” “You can trust me.” I can imagine, with each plague that hope begins to rise in them — maybe there is a champion out there.
I am not a recovering slave, but there have been times when God’s message to me has been scrambled. In times like those his truth, his promise and most often, his love for me gets lost. Yet, the clearest messages I have heard from God, are the ones that have seeped through the heaviness of difficult circumstances.
About seven years ago, our son Caleb, who sees the world through the veil of Autism, began to self injure himself. It was likely due to his struggle with anxiety, but nonetheless it quickly became uncontrollable. At the height of this cycle he was hitting himself 600 – 700 times in a day. Restraining him only increased the behaviour. It was a horrible time for us; our spirits were broken.
In an attempt to find help I had taken him Children’s Hospital in Vancouver. On the return drive, not having received much hope from our appointment, I was heavy with despair about how we would walk this journey with Caleb. Often, along the stretch of road I was driving, Great Blue Herons ‘pose’ in the ditches and highway margins. It has become a habit to look for sightings of herons when I drive this stretch.
I needed something specific from God that day and so I prayed, Lord, if you would let me see three herons along this drive home, I will know that there is hope for us. As I drove I counted: one, two….three. I was relieved and thankful. As I continued driving though, there was another…four, five….six…..and then when I saw the seventh heron, I wept. I had asked God for three and he gave me more than double my request. It was a meek request, one that might easily be explained away, but God’s response was to lavishly cover over my hopelessness with love and presence.
(A heron icon I made last year)
Caleb slowly shifted away from that first cycle of self injurious behaviour but had three more over the years that followed; none of them were easy for him or for us. It might be tempting to believe that only a total release from Caleb’s anxiety would secure our belief in God’s care for him and us. Yet, if we look at the 1 Peter passage we find that it is embedded against the certainty of persecution, which was the context of real life for those people. Real life is full of bumps, twists, joys, disappointments and sorrows. The reason for the hope within us must sustain us as we journey through our real lives.
Therefore, I believe God wins my heart within the context of everyday life. He delights to do things like: best Pharaoh in a display of power and send many Herons to pose along a Highway corridor because I prayed.
Lord Jesus, as we turn toward Christmas, turn our hearts toward you. Amen