The Exodus:5 Project
And the Egyptians shall know that I am the LORD, when I stretch out My hand over Egypt and bring out the Israelites from their midst. Exodus 7:5
I had the great experience of spending some time with all my kids this past week. They live relatively close to us, but it has been a busy time for everyone and the chance to be together helped me appreciate what remarkable people they are. I like to tell people that their mother raised them well, and she always objects, saying it was a highly collaborative process. She is right, of course.
I can have a pretty high opinion of myself. What brings me down to earth, however, is when I hear other people carry on about themselves. A good friend was telling me about a dining companion who described himself as a self-made man. He insisted that everything he accomplished, he accomplished on his own. He would not accept the suggestion that he had any kind of help – the buildings he built he built without anyone else’s assistance – not even the construction crews. He is wrong, of course.
But he believes it. In his arrogance, he dismisses the skill and effort that assemble to ensure his success. It may very well be that, given enough time, he could have built his real estate collection from the ground up, digging foundations by hand, mixing the concrete with a wire whisk, dragging the steel beams from the forge after he let them cool, and so forth. It is nonsense. In this world, no accomplishment is the result of an individual’s effort.
The spectacle that has afflicted the highest office in the land is an embarrassment. Yet another Twitter war has erupted, this one between the father of a college basketball player who was arrested in China for shoplifting and the President. The father was particularly ungracious after the Chinese government acceded to the request of the President to release the three young men rather than try them for the crime they committed. It is doubtful that anyone hearing his ingratitude would approve of his behavior. Out of his disdain for the man who holds the office, he declined to give thanks and assigned the return of his son to diplomatic efforts in different corners of the government.
The President responded with unkind words of his own directed at the father. That much we have all come to expect. But like the aforementioned dinner companion, he added this: It wasn’t the White House, it wasn’t the State Department, it wasn’t father LaVar’s so-called people on the ground in China that got his son out of a long term prison sentence - IT WAS ME.
“It was me.” In all capital letters, no less. It may very well be that, given enough time, he could have recreated the political and economic circumstances that define US-China relations all by himself, flown the plane that landed him there and driven himself to a meeting he himself arranged with President Xi, who gave into his singular charms. He is wrong, of course.
Each of us is created in the image of God. I suspect that, like me, each of us confuses being in God’s image with being God, or at least God-like. More than one thinker of theological thoughts has suggested that we were created to reflect aspects of God, or to provide a lonely God with companionship or even to be God’s partner in this complicated world. Certainly, that is who Moses was. Was it beyond God’s capabilities to extract the Israelite slaves from Pharaoh’s oppression? Did Moses have to proclaim God’s intentions and demands? Could not much suffering and delay have been prevented if we dispensed with all the drama?
If indeed there were truth – or even value – in isolating God’s “boast” in the verse above, the Israelites could have been swept out of Egypt by a singular miracle instead of a series of unnatural disasters. Pharaoh could have awakened to empty slave-quarters to see, written in capital cuneiform in the fields of Goshen, “IT WAS ME.”
Instead, the verse sits in the context of the collective efforts of increasing numbers of people – two brothers, disgruntled slaves, skeptical court officers, disillusioned subjects – to show not the isolated power of a competing dictator, but the collaboration that is necessary to accomplish more than a transfer of personnel. An arrogant god is insufferable, as Pharaoh was. Arrogance makes people insufferable, especially when they are, of course, wrong.
Why bother with this critique of Donald Trump? Doesn’t everyone know who he is already – critics with one set of opinions, admirers with another? Because we mustn’t forget amidst the tabloid distractions of bad behavior that he is not just another celebrity. As President of the United States he sets a standard for others who feel empowered to declare IT WAS ME at the dinner table and anywhere else. And the functions of our government and our society must be debated and evaluated, not hijacked under the radar by ideologues who believe they have permission to make decisions for us all under the doctrine of IT WAS ME.