Friday, March 13, 2009

Impatience Is a Virtue

In an interesting twist of semantics, I rarely hear Christians being told to be more God-like. It's almost exclusively instructed for believers to become more Christ-like. Maybe that's because of the negative connotations now associated with being God-like. But reportedly, Christ and God are one and the same; parts of the Trinitarian Godhead. So what you see God do would necessarily be considered virtuous and righteous, just as Christians consider Jesus' behavior.

God has heard the cries that the Israelites have made due to their oppressive Egyptian slavery. He has decided that now is the time to begin their liberation process. We enter this study with Moses on Mount Horeb, as God (in burning bush form) is telling Moses what he needs to do, as he is to play a role in this process.

Impatience Is a Virtue
In Exodus Chapter 3 and Exodus 4:1-17, we find the story of God telling Moses to go back to Egypt to confront Pharaoh as part of His plans to rescue the Israelites and bring them to the Promised Land.

Moses is hesitant to do as God requests, as the story reveals. (Moses has a good reason to hesitate, as there was a death sentence pronounced on him in Egypt, thus causing him to flee to Midian in Exodus 2:11-15.)

Moses asks in Exodus 3:11: “Who am I, that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?” NIV God replies that He will be with Moses, and God gives him a sign to look for as proof of the fact that it is God that has told him this. This sign, that Moses will return to pray on Mount Horeb after the Israelites are freed, is an odd and somewhat pointless sign, since it is to occur long after he is to confront Pharaoh, and it is dwarfed by the miraculous signs which will come prior to his return.

Moses asks in Exodus 3:13: “Suppose I go to the Israelites and say to them, 'The God of your fathers has sent me to you,' and they ask me, 'What is his name?' Then what shall I tell them?” NIV This seems like a strange question to me, because God had already told Moses that He was “the God of [his] father” in Exodus 3:6. Not that the statement provided a name, rather that the statement provides evidence that the Israelites knew of God at that time, so it seems kind of pointless to be asking His name.

Anyway, God goes on to tell Moses that God's name is LORD (actually not “LORD”, but a name that is very close to “I am” in Hebrew). God explains that the elders will listen to him, and that he and the elders should request Pharaoh to let the Israelites go sacrifice to God, and explains that the process will ultimately yield the Israelites leaving Egypt with the Egyptians' wealth.

Moses asks in Exodus 4:1: “What if they do not believe me or listen to me and say, 'The LORD did not appear to you'?” NIV In a rather terse manner, as if to show that God was becoming impatient with Moses, God tells Moses what he will need to do to perform three different miraculous signs to prove that God was with him.

Moses complains in Exodus 4:10: “O Lord, I have never been eloquent, neither in the past nor since you have spoken to your servant. I am slow of speech and tongue.” God replies “Who gave man his mouth? Who makes him deaf or mute? Who gives him sight or makes him blind? Is it not I, the LORD? Now go; I will help you speak and will teach you what to say.” NIV So, if someone you know is blind, deaf, or mute, don't forget to remind them that God is responsible for their condition. Implicitly, any number of birth defects could probably be attributed to being God's will as well.

Moses begs in Exodus 4:13 “O Lord, please send someone else to do it.” NIV At that point, God looses His cool and gets impatient. “Then the LORD's anger burned against Moses” and God suggests that Moses's brother, Aaron, could do the talking for Moses, while Moses would perform the miraculous signs.

(I'll quickly point out that Moses is lucky, as typically where God's anger burns against someone, they are severely punished or killed.)

I purposefully listed each line of resistance God encountered from Moses. If I were telling someone to do something and they seemed to stall and resist as much as Moses did, I would probably grow impatient and angry. So I don't mean to sound like I don't understand how God could become impatient.

However, when you consider what God's powers are, the idea of God becoming impatient becomes ludicrous. God made Moses, so He should have known the type of person that Moses is and what his inclinations are. God knows Moses's heart and thoughts, so He should have known what kind of resistance Moses may put up. God is omniscient to the future, so He should have known in advance exactly what Moses's points of resistance were going to be, and He should have known that ultimately Aaron would be needed to help give Moses the confidence necessary to confront the Pharaoh.

God, knowing all these things, should have been able to navigate this dance of progressive discourse with Moses without getting angry. Or, better yet, God should have short-circuited Moses's resistance by answering his objections before Moses even made them, like by giving him the miraculous signs and telling him to have Aaron speak for him from the beginning. But this is not what God does.

God chose the way to interact with Moses, and chose the progressive nature of their conversation. So if you find yourself becoming impatient and getting angry, even when it's due to a situation that you ultimately created: congratulations! You are acting with virtue and righteousness, just like God!


  1. I thought your comment at the end about God's "chosen" interaction with humanity was very insightful. Often, when I was in Christian circles, I would hear them comment about the way that the individual responded to God's communication rather than the more accurate "choice" God made to communicate the way he did in order to allow those responses to occur.

    A classic example would be Adam and Eve in the garden. God could have said "And some might say that if you eat of the tree of life you surely will not die. However, that is a lie. Do not be deceived by it." Instead, no further instruction is given to help avoid the fall and Eve buys the serpent's deception hook line and sinker.

  2. I think you've even better defined it than I have in "the more accurate 'choice' God made to communicate the way he did in order to allow those responses to occur". For if God knows us perfectly and knows the future perfectly, then He would know the way we would respond in advance to any approach that He chooses. And Adam and Eve is a great example as you point out.

    Some may claim that God doesn't know our responses in advance due to our "free will". Besides being contextually incorrect within the Bible, it also neglects the part about God knowing us and our hearts.

    For example, if God knows that my favorite ice cream is cookies and cream, and that my least favorite is rocky road, then He should know in advance that I would choose the one over the other, despite "free will". That's a simple example, but when you extrapolate it out based on exactly how well God supposedly knows us, then He would know pretty much all of our decisions and reactions in advance.

  3. Why did'nt God just save himself the hassle and give Moses fiery determination and oral superiority over the lowly Egyptians?[since he claimed to have that power] An apparently simple task for a being with limitless powers.Even if you did'nt have powers,why would you send a person with a speech impediment to do your talking?,Why not be honest and tell Moses the truth,the right person for the job works for someone else.

  4. I agree with you on your logic. However, the Jews and Christians do actually have a viable defense for God's decision to choose Moses, imperfect as he was.

    One theme repeated in the Bible is God's use of unlikely heroes and armies of inferior strength compared to their enemies. This plot element not only adds to the excitement of the story, but also inherently proves that their success was based on the power of God, and therefore was not a product of their own strengths.

    Of course, even with God's help, they weren't always successful. (That reminds me, I think I need to invest in an iron chariot...) ;-)

  5. You made a point,you said
    "if someone stalled and resisted as much as Moses i would probably get impatient and angry"That would have to be with no omniscience or knowledge of moses's personality or character traits/flaws.Now say you were omniscient?I guess my point is;You know someones response to a request in advance, You know you will get impatient and angry [burning angry] due to thier response. Why not save yourself the aggravation? [it's not healthy]Unless, of course, you get off on being angry.[makes for a better body count i guess]
    Even without omniscience, but with observation,over time you can figure out peoples response to certain situations.
    Or,say you dont know thier response. At least let them in on your underdog angle,instead of just blowing your own horn.You're all knowing,you can explain anything,much better and easier than a stupid human.
    Ultimately,couldnt you just say "Do it because you love me?"
    Bottom line, The only reason he wanted them "free" was so he could savor the smell of burning flesh.So he could have easily just told them he was jonesing.

  6. That's right; I should only be angry if I wasn't omniscient. I was trying to make that point, but maybe I didn't do so well.

    The best defense I've heard for this is that sometimes you have to do things you know will hurt or anger you, and yet you still react that way. Take surgery and visits to the DMV, for example. But I still find this to be a paltry defense in the case of true omniscience.

    You make an excellent point from the love angle. You never see that kind of interaction with God, which is pretty off if God is supposed to be love.