Then the Lord said to Abram, “Know for certain that your offspring will be sojourners in a land that is not theirs and will be servants there, and they will be afflicted for four hundred years. But I will bring judgment on the nation that they serve, and afterward they shall come out with great possessions. Genesis 15:13-15
And Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, “Take this child away and nurse him for me, and I will give you your wages.” So the woman took the child and nursed him. When the child grew older, she brought him to Pharaoh’s daughter, and he became her son. She named him Moses, “Because,” she said, “I drew him out of the water.” Exodus 2:9-10
I can only imagine the despair and hopelessness that would set in after 400 years of affliction, and generation after generation born into slavery. Even with amazing stories of God’s work among and through their forefathers, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Joseph, the Hebrew slaves in Egypt had to have lost their hope in the God of their fathers. After some 400 years of virtual silence, there had to have been a strong feeling of God turning his back on them, or even abandoning them altogether. And the tiny miracle of Moses’ life being spared and being raised in Pharaoh’s palace would likely have been completely missed or overlooked by the vast majority of those slaves. It would be 80 more years of slave labor before that tiny little miracle would even begin to bear fruit. Good news: God has a plan and in another 80 years or so, He will launch it!
When we (either individually or even as a church) find ourselves in such a hard season of slavery or hard work or otherwise feeling that God is simply not here for us, we can remember this story and we can tell ourselves that, unseen by us, God is at work in the background of our lives, like an app working in the background of our laptop, bringing about amazing and miraculous things that will surely save us from our current circumstances. We just have to be patient and wait for him to step out of the background and into the foreground of our lives and save us. But He will save us and our story will take a turn for the better and we will be happy once again. That’s what we tell ourselves.
But it is not true. That is not the lesson of this story. Here’s why…
God is not an app, sometimes working in the background of our life and sometimes open and working on the “desktop” of our life. That metaphor is backwards…inside out. God is not an app to our desktop…WE are the app on GOD’s desktop. As believers, we are not the star of our story…we are merely a part of a much larger story (God’s story). Viewed from the perspective of the Hebrew slaves, it is easy to read Exodus as a story about them and about how God enters their story and changes their circumstances. But that view is narrow, and misses the larger meta-narrative that scripture writes. It seems much more accurate to me to describe the plight of the Hebrew people in Exodus as playing a part in God’s story about how He would act over centuries and millennia to draw a people unto Himself and bring salvation to a lost and dying world.
Think about this. The same God who spared tens of thousands of babies sleeping under doorposts painted with lamb’s blood also took the lives of tens of thousands of babies (on that very same night) whose parents did not seek the protection of the lamb’s blood. This is not a feel-good story, when viewed narrowly from the perspective of the Egyptian participants. From that narrow perspective, it is a horrifying story about the sovereignty of God. But there is a larger perspective.
Similarly, when we find our own lives (or the life of our church) stuck in difficult and painful circumstances–and if you have not yet, you will–the point is less about waiting patiently for God to remove these painful circumstances and much more about praying that God will use these circumstances to tell His story through us…to use our pain and His timing to help reach a lost and broken world. To use us in whatever manner He chooses in order to tell His larger story. In short, God is telling an important story, but it is not a story about you or about me nor about your church nor about my church. It is a story about Him, and about mankind living (or dying) in relationship to Him.
And what an amazing, unbelievable privilege to get to be a part of that story!