In the middle of the Exodus story, God is rescuing the Hebrews from their slavery. He’s enacted 10 plagues on the Egyptian people, he’s brought the Hebrews up out of the land of Egypt. He’s allowed them to pillage the Egyptians and take their valuables on their way out of town. They flee for their lives, run out into the wilderness, and find themselves up against the Red Sea. They turn around, scanning the horizon for the best possible route away, and off in the distance they see it: The Egyptian army is coming after them.
Naturally, panic ensues. The Hebrews turn on Moses with sarcastic questions like, “Why’d you bring us out here to die? Were there not enough graves in Egypt so you just had to bring us out here?”
And Moses responds, “The LORD will fight for you. You need only to be still.”
We all know what happens next. Moses raises his staff, the Red Sea parts, and the Hebrews all walk safely across on dry land. The Egyptians follow them in, and are swallowed up by the sea as it comes crashing back into place.
All that complaining, all that griping, all that panic, and God rescued the Hebrews without even asking their help.
Of course, it’s very easy for us to read the story of the Exodus and to laugh at the Hebrew people for their lack of trust in God, because we have something like 3500 years of hindsight. We have the benefit of growing up in church hearing the stories of the Bible. We know how they end. God intervenes and saves the day.
And this knowledge of God’s intervention often pumps us up. We get excited at God’s great power in the world and the Church often reacts by standing up to make her voice heard and to accomplish what she sees as God’s will in the world. We become advocates for the cause of Christ. We uphold morality, and fight for justice and righteousness. We have legislation to protect Christian values. We engage in long and expensive legal battles to protect the rights of Christians and Christian businesses. We engage in coordinated boycotts on companies that we perceive as having non-Christian values. In short, We work to protect the interests of God in a world that doesn’t seem to care about God’s interests.
But while we’re doing everything we possibly can to advance the cause of Christ, we often forget the words Moses spoke to the Hebrews when they were trapped at the Red Sea: The LORD will fight for you. You need only to be still.
The issue the Hebrews had with God was that they didn’t trust him to protect them. They didn’t trust him to deliver them. They didn’t trust him to keep his promises. And in their powerlessness, they panicked.
The issue with the Church today might just be the same thing. We don’t trust God to protect us. We don’t trust God to deliver us. We don’t trust God to keep his promises. But we are no longer powerless. We have big church buildings and lots of money. We have literally billions of fellow Christians we can stir up to fight with us. And in our powerfulness, we have no need to be still. We have no need for God to fight for us, because we have instead chosen to fight for God.
I wonder how different the world would look if, during the middle ages, the Christians had said, “You know, we don’t need Jerusalem. If God wants it, he’ll give it back to us.”
I wonder how different our the world would look if in the 12th century, the church said, “You know, some of these scientific theories make us uncomfortable, but if they’re an affront against God, he’ll probably do something about it for us.”
It’s interesting that hindsight usually shows us that fighting for God hurts our cause more than it helps it. Instead it seems the Church could have benefited from Moses’ advice in Exodus 14:14 – The LORD will fight for you. You need only be still.
And perhaps the Church could still benefit from that advice today. Maybe sometimes the role of the Church in the world is to step back and let God fight for her. Over and over again in the Bible, God does incredible things through powerless people, and yet we refuse to allow ourselves to be powerless. But if we’re going to talk about what the Church has to do the in the world, the very first thing we have to do is to stop doing and just be still.
That doesn’t mean we won’t be active. I think the mission of the Church calls us to be very active in a lot of ways. But before we can start to be effective in the mission of the Church, we have to recognize where we are called to act, and where we are called to be still. Next week we’ll start looking at what areas the Church needs to be active in. But before we can be active in the world, we must first be still before the Lord. We must put our trust in him, that even when we’re cornered between the Red Sea and the Egyptian army, that the Lord will fight for us. The power of God is exemplified by our weaknesses, not aided by our strengths.
May we place our full faith in God, step away from our battle lines, and be still before the Lord. Because The LORD will fight for you. You need only be still.
Part 2: The Church and Martyrdom is available here.