I was reading Exodus last night and noticed I wasn't feeling that well. The more I read, the worse I felt. I couldn't get the images of needless violence out of my head, and I don't know what to do with all the questions screaming at me either. Genesis was bad, but I read it as cultural reference only. Then in the bible study forum there were complaints that we weren't taking it seriously and no one would want to discuss the bible with people who didn't value the message. So I was determined to start reading differently, as if this was a book that reflected a history that I wanted to be part of. Exodus hasn't been an easy read and I constantly find myself asking, why? Why does God harden the Pharaoh's heart* so that he can send Moses in with more and more plagues that effect everyone? Do the children of Egypt not deserve clean drinking water? To not be tormented by frogs, lice, and flies? Do the fish deserve to die when the river is turned to blood, and the cattle because hail rains down on them? The Pharaoh might have let the Hebrews go after the first plague, but God just keeps hardening his heart. It's not hard for me to imagine being a regular Egyptian that has no control over what the Pharaoh does, being pelted with hail and covered in lice (yes, I know it wasn't at the same time) and thinking WHY? I had to stop reading. I ended up skimming the chapters I wanted to read at the SAB and putting the bible up.
I consider myself a humanist these days, but I didn't always. I don't think I was raised with an emphasis on empathy (as I've posted about previously), and I certainly didn't carry it into adulthood. For a while I was working for EarthLink in customer service. First I was a phone rep, then I moved into supervisory position. Along the way, I learned how to really dislike people: from the angry customers, to executives that made decisions without any thought to who answers the phones. I was laid off in March 2004 and I kept my negative view of people with me for a long time. Only in the last three years have I begun to view people as humans. Humans that make mistakes, but also do great things. Humans that connect me to every other human and living thing on the planet. It's not that I wasn't a nice person, but I mostly kept to myself. I didn't hate everyone, but I generalized a lot. I just didn't feel a connection to anyone I didn't know. It might have been easier for me to read the bible then when I seemed immune to human suffering. As I began to change and feel more empathy I started having a hard time watching movies or reading books with themes where people got hurt. And this is where I stand with Exodus. I guess I'm taking it literally again. Is there any proof these plagues actually occurred? Perhaps these are just stories to illustrate a point. You can't win against God. I'm not sure, but I don't really like the stories either way.
*Whenever anything has been brought up that makes God look like a jerk, there has always been some interpretation offered that explains away the discomfort. I can see the value in that if you want to believe the bible and in God, but to me it seems like a cop-out. So anyway, I asked what it meant to harden the Pharaoh's heart and was told it meant that God was encouraging or strengthening his heart. I decided to Google it, but I haven't had a chance to really get into it yet. I can see several sites saying the same sort of thing though. So when God is hardening, it's encouraging the Pharaoh's heart to let the the people of Israel go. And when the Pharaoh is hardening his own heart? He is perhaps strengthening it to not hear what God and Moses are saying. How convenient.