Saturday, December 13, 2014

Ridley Scott, Judging God

Why does Ridley Scott, who has said “religion” was the greatest evil of all bother to make a Biblical epic movie?

The Noah movie that came out earlier this year had people scratching their heads, too. Why would an atheist be interested in doing a movie about God's judgment on humanity? Not surprisingly, the movie's narrative was rather confusing. The best an atheist can come up with is that mankind has mistreated Nature and God needed to put an end to that.

With Exodus: Gods and Kings, another atheist is grappling with God's judgment on mankind. And, surprise, surprise, God isn't viewed as good or righteous. While Noah toyed with the idea that God might be fitful and given to overkill, wanting to wipe out all of humanity, including Noah and his family, only rescuing the “innocent” animals. That movie resolves with Noah recognizing that God doesn't want that, and that it is a new beginning for humanity. Even thought it's emphasis seems to be on ecological goodness, not righteousness before a Holy God.

With this new tale of Moses, however, there are some serious issues that cannot be explained by a misunderstanding from a non-believer.

First, Moses does not appear to be the subject of a 400-year-old prophecy. The movie glosses over Pharaoh's edict to murder all the Jewish boys by throwing them into the Nile. The lack of this genocide, in addition to the oppressive slavery over the past 400 years doesn't appear to interest Ridley Scott, Christian Bale, or the rest of the producers, writers et. al. Instead, they pick up the story in some fanciful battle with the Hittites, which I've never heard of before. The Hittites were powerful in the area, but not anywhere near as dominant as Egypt. With the resources of Egypt and the commerce of the world depending on that empire, it wouldn't be logical that a group of people that depend on them would attack in a large-scale war. That would be like Mexico attacking the United States. No matter what differences we might have, that's not going to happen. Ever.

Second, Moses is depicted as being unaware of his Hebrew heritage. I think such ambivalence could rightly be placed with Scott or Bale, but not Moses. Since they skipped the rich story of God's providence when Moses' mother refused to let him be killed, keeping him secret and then placing him in a basket in the Nile, they also missed the part about Pharaoh's daughter who was bathing in the Nile, probably hoping to be blessed with a child (Royalty would not be bathing in the river and the Nile was reputed for its fertility). When she saw Moses in the basket, she might have viewed this as a gift from the god of the Nile. She let Moses' mother raise him until he was weaned, which would be around 3-5 years old in that culture.

It's possible that Moses would have had distant memories of those years, but it is clear in the Bible that he remembered his people. Maybe he stayed in contact with Miriam, his sister. The most important part of the story, and Moses' messianic imagery was the fact that he chose to shed the royal powers and privilege and identify himself with his people who were the lowest form of slave in the world. God shed His glory and became human to rescue his people.

With nothing to gain and all to lose, after thoughtful examination, he descended from the footsteps of the loftiest throne in the world. --Meyer, F, B., Moses, The Servant Of God (p. 21). Heritage Bible Fellowship. Kindle Edition.”

This is the pathos of the story! How can you root for a guy who is reluctantly rescuing a group of people he despises?

Moses was 40 years old when he stepped down from the palace to join the slaves. Imagine the anger and hurt that Pharaoh and his daughter suffered at Moses' decision. They would have seen it as a slap in the face, an act of ungratefulness at best. They'd see it as utter foolishness, for sure.

There was pride in Moses. All the Hebrews knew the prophecy of 400 years. They knew that after that time God would send a deliverer to free them from the bondage of Egypt. They were all looking. Perhaps Moses' mother had told him he was the one. Maybe Moses simply couldn't stand to see his people under such cruel suffering and decided he would be the one! We don't know for sure. We do know that Moses saw an Egyptian beating one of his fellow slaves to death and defended that slave, killing the Egyptian.

Fear followed Moses actions because he wasn't doing what God had told him to do. He hid the dead body, but then fled from his land, escaping to the wilderness, possibly as far as present day Saudi Arabia.

His own education was very incomplete; it would take at least forty years to drain him of his self-will and self-reliance, and make him a vessel meet for the Master’s use.
--Meyer, F, B., Moses, The Servant Of God (p. 26). Heritage Bible Fellowship. Kindle Edition.”

Moses was 40 when he stepped down from the heights of Egypt and attempted to save his people by his own efforts. It took 40 years of humility before he was ready for God's use.

That's another remarkable aspect of this story. Moses was 80 years old when God called him back. During this time he might have struggled to forget the suffering of his people at the hands of the vicious Egyptians. He might have buried his feelings deep and hoped he'd never have to be reminded of those early days. Maybe, as he slept on the hard ground under the diamond-speckled heavens, Moses' thoughts went back to his days of privilege and honor. Perhaps he could see the vanity in it all. Whatever it was, the time emptied him of his self-will and his pride.

Third, the movie portrays Moses as an atheist. He doesn't buy into the gods of Egypt and is unsure of the existence of God. I'm not sure if Ridley Scott is attempting to be creative or derisive in depicting God as an 11-year-old boy. Reactions to his depiction, however, seem to indicate that God comes across as petulant or “spoiled.”

Moses was not an atheist. He knew there was one God, not many, like the Egyptians believed. So, his dismissal of Egyptian mysticism might be true to form. But when God appeared, speaking from the burning bush, Moses was in awe. The Bible also doesn't say that God appeared in any human form when interacting with Moses. Certainly not when he spoke from the bush.

I realize that many will see the “burning bush” as a fantastical, mythic tale. Yet, it has meaning, which we can examine.

The burning caught Moses' attention, drawing him to where it was. God doesn't meet us where we are or how we might prefer. Rather, He draws us out of our routine. Moses turned aside to see the wonder of this mighty flame.

The bush was not consumed. Despite the intense heat and light, the physical form beneath God's display was not damaged. This paradox of power and control amazed the humbled Moses. No earthly power can avoid destroying things, even with great effort. We lack control and tend to break things with our power. Yet God is in complete control of the elements and the display of His power.

Moses could not approach the flame. Much like the sun, God dwells in unapproachable light. Moses, in fact, had to remove his sandals in honor of the very presence of God's display. God was not fully present in the bursting flames and light surrounding the bush. But His glory was translated, as was His voice, for Moses' benefit. Much like Jesus is called “the light of the world,” and “the word of God,” The light from the bush and the voice that Moses heard were translations of God's reality made tangible for a human.

The last thing the movie destroys is God's righteousness. The plagues of Egypt are reduced to “naturalistic” phenomena. Alligators chomping on fish and such to make the Nile water red with blood, a tsunami drawing back the water (in the nick of time, as a matter of fact) to provide the Hebrews an escape and destroy Pharaoh and his army. And by this, the filmmakers miss the focus of the plagues.

And so God set Himself to show that the gods of the heathen were no gods; that the whole system of Egyptian worship must be subordinate to the empire of a greater God than any known to their magicians or priests; --Meyer, F, B. Moses, The Servant Of God (p. 54). Heritage Bible Fellowship. Kindle Edition.”

““Who is Jehovah?” He is the God of Nature, at whoso bidding the Nile no longer blesses, but curses, her devotees; at whose command the objects of Egyptian worship become a loathing and an abomination, and make the land stink; at the expression of whose will the bodies of the priests are covered with the lice that deride all that razor or water can do for their extermination, and at whose summons the sacred beetle Corrupts the land. “Not know Him?” He is the God who speaks through human voices; the God of the aged brethren; the God of those groaning serfs; the God who could not run back from a covenant into which He had entered with that long-suffering people; the God of Redemption and of Eternity. --Meyer, F, B. Moses, The Servant Of God (pp. 54-55). Heritage Bible Fellowship. Kindle Edition.”

The plagues were uniquely fashioned to displace the Egyptian gods and to make Pharaoh indisputably aware of who God was. Each plague was announced before it happened (which makes a natural explanation impossible). Each one jabbed at a sacred aspect of Egyptian mysticism, right down to the first born.

In the movie, Moses will “have no part!” of the killing of the first born. Which is weird. I wonder if Moses, in this movie, would have had any part in the killing of Hebrew children by the hundreds or thousands? I wonder if Moses would have had any part of the brutality, abuse and murder of the Hebrew slaves?

When filmmakers judge God, they reveal their hatred, not their compassion. Humans will gloss over the evils of everyday life, then rail against the notion of the demands of a Holy God. The reason is simple. Humanity, like Pharaoh, believes itself to be basically good. The evil we do is just part of life, the culture we live in. How can we be held responsible for mistreating slaves? It's just part of the way of life. How can we be blamed for wanting to make the most of our resources and keep them from overpowering us? After all, we assume some god or force has allowed us to be in the position we are.

Humanity resents true justice because it doesn't weigh the scales or take bribes. It demands pure righteousness, which we can't possess on our own.

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