For the past couple of weeks, I’ve had a chance to take my two oldest daughters roller skating at a local skating rink. They’re 4 years old and 2 1/2, respectively and so obviously neither one of them has done much skating. In fact, they’re still small enough that they need to use the skates that go over their shoes. They’re delightfully cute, but when I have both of them by myself and I’m trying to coax them into actually trying to walk/skate on their own, and one of them wants to sit down while the other wants to watch me skate instead, it can get…trying.
Quite coincidentally, my wife and I have also just been teaching our children about the story of Moses and the Exodus from Egypt. We use a little daily devotional that gives kind of a highlight of the main stories of the Bible, with a short reading each day. I mostly read the short excerpt, then turn it into a story to try and emphasize and really get the points across in a way that my 4 year old (and, occasionally, my 2 1/2 year old) can understand and remember.
As it would happen, on the rink the other day, while my kids were both pretty much losing their minds, I realized that the position they were putting me in is somewhat like the position that the Israelites were putting both Moses and God Himself in after their departure from Egypt. We should all know the story, but it bears emphasizing the high points to make this clear.
Moses is called by God to return to Egypt, after having outed himself as a Hebrew. Furthermore, he’s not only called to return to that land (which would have been very risky for him), but he’s given the task of confronting the Pharaoh and leading God’s people out of Egypt. Their initial request is a three day leave to go off and worship in the desert. Though it was only a temporary request for freedom, a modest form of religious liberty we might say, the Pharaoh has none of it. This of course leads to the plagues which increase in their calamity until the final plague leads to the death of not only every first-born among the Egyptians, but in particular the death of Pharaoh’s son.
Finally convinced that perhaps Moses does speak for a higher authority, and is not a mere court magician, the Pharaoh begrudgingly allows the Hebrews to flee, even ordering them to take the Egyptian’s gold. Of course, he changes his mind, sets the army of charioteers after them in a fit of vengeance, and ultimately the army is swallowed up in the Red Sea.
After all of the plagues, the miraculous parting of the sea, and even the theophany at Sinai, the Hebrew people begin their wandering with Moses in the desert (due to their idolatry and the Golden Calf incident) and shortly after their departure they begin to….whine. They even go so far as to suggest that they were better of in Egypt where, though they were slaves, they at least had their immediate needs of food and drink met.
Can you imagine the frustration Moses or God would have sensed at the moment these cries began to burst forth? God’s own people had been led forth from slavery and their response is to worship a golden calf, then complain about their hunger, as if God was not already going to take care of them.
Now, back to the skating rink. There I am, a masterful skater if I do say so myself (I have plenty of embarrassing home videos to back this up), trying to teach my daughters how to hold themselves up, how to balance, etc. And what is their reaction? Not a “Gee, thanks dad! This is so fun!” Instead, I get variations of “I want to go sit down.” or “These skates are heavy.” or “I’m thirsty.” or “I have to go to the bathroom” (Surprise, she didn’t!).
When those kinds of cries start welling up, I get frustrated and annoyed and am tempted to just abandon the whole idea. Let’s just go home! Then I suddenly remembered Moses in the desert, pleading on behalf of God’s people. God could certainly have been justified in just letting them abandon their call and His plan for them. As they would make abundantly clear through the OT, they weren’t exactly ready for the noble calling to be God’s first-born among the nations and to serve as a light for the other nations to follow. But God treated them mercifully, with patience and kindness.
This is a reading of the OT that I think is often forgotten and overlooked. It’s so easy to get into the grit of the Old Testament, to see the obvious human failures, the sometimes extraordinary responses that God gives and think it’s all a mess, that there’s no way God was somehow working good out of the situation. Marcion, an early heretic, for instance thought that the Old Testament was just too vengeful and sin-ridden to have been any part of the revelation of the God who we see in the New Testament.
But that reading, that easy temptation to dismiss the Old Testament, ignores the divine paternity of God. In the divine economy, God is always fathering His people. And even in spite of their rejection of his ways, their dismissal of his commandments and their breaking of the covenants, God remains faithful. He, moreover, continues to call His people back to holiness, back to him. He doesn’t give up, but accompanies them. In fact, He is so steadfast in his desire to see them mature in His ways that God will eventually send His Son to become one of us, and journey along side us to show us the way.
My daughters are certainly a long way from becoming adept at skating. And in the grand scheme, it really is inconsequential. But my little epiphany while trying to keep them on the rink and to stop their crying reminded me of how much I, and all of us, must really be thankful, give eucharistia, for God’s patience and mercy with us. Not only throughout divine revelation and history, but in our own lives, we all have in some way caused problems for God. Let us rejoice that He responds not with anger and retribution, but mercy and patience, allowing us time to grow and mature and so finally, in the end, reach the goal and end of our journey in perfect union with Him.