A great people’s origin story is one of liberation from bondage. A nation born from emancipation, and deliverance from slavery and oppression is its national mythology.
We hear that word, mythology. I worry that in our popular consciousness, that word tends to evoke a sense of un-truth, fictionality. It’s all a myth anyway. The Red Sea didn’t part like that. God didn’t burn in a bush. The Ten Commandments evolved from cultural norms and practices, not tablets handed down from on high. But to seek only truth and non-truth in the stories we share (what we are really talking about is fact and non-fact, rather than truth and non-truth), is to undervalue the power of myth, the power of literature. Think, rather, of the countless people throughout these millennia who have held this story in their hearts as being the most true thing they know. Think of individual lives that have been saved because they believed in the power of their God to deliver them. Think of the history of the Jewish people.
On the cover of the Mouse edition of Exodus you see in the space reserved for the author’s name the name of Moses. Moses is thought to be the author of The Book of Exodus. He is also thought to be its protagonist. You would not be wrong to speak in this way. But there is another protagonist of this story, who is the protagonist, and in a way the author, of an entire national history: God. I am not speaking now from a place of belief, but rather a place of literary assessment. God is literally a character in these stories. But the protagonist? The author? Exodus is a story of a people and their God, coming together, triumphantly.
God is the protagonist. God is the author. I am thinking of a quote from the Trappist monk Thomas Merton. He writes, in New Seeds of Contemplation, “God did not invite the Children of Israel to leave the slavery of Egypt: he commanded them to do so.” The grand story of Exodus begins when God decides to enact justice. He works through his chosen prophet Moses, and he throws in some plagues and a parting sea to seal the deal. God is justice in Exodus, from the beginning of the liberation story through the handing down of the commandments.
God is justice. We can turn to Martin Luther King: “Let us realize that the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” King envisions an inevitability, a cosmic plan. I once heard his friend John Lewis put it this way. I paraphrase - it is not that we must bring the beloved community (or the Kingdom of God) into being. It already is here. We just have to step into it and dwell there. What does it mean then to know that God, the universe, or however we envision that which is beyond us - what does it mean to know that this entity sides with victims, sides with the oppressed and enslaved, and is working furiously to liberate the human species from every form of bondage?
Brian Chappell, Mouse Editor