In a previous post entitled “We Are Out of Change,” I suggested that being comfortable with a new status quo doesn’t make it any better than the previous one. The work of Adams and Balfour on administrative evil demonstrates that “…one can be a ‘good’ or responsible professional or leader and at the same time commit or contribute to acts of administrative evil.” I argued that often we are satisfied with achieving comfort for ourselves even if in doing so we make life uncomfortable for others. We switch out one regime for another and one marginalized group for another, thus producing no real change. In this post, I’d like to delve more deeply into this concept by evaluating the exodus from Egypt.
The exodus from Egypt has often been used as a seminal moment for Liberation Theology. The exodus narrative is one of the paradigmatic depictions of God’s intervention on behalf of an oppressed people who cannot help themselves. In reading the narrative of Israel’s oppression by and deliverance from Egypt, it would be unfortunate if we missed the underlying theological dynamic of the whole incident.
Pharaoh has mistaken the blessing of Israel’s fruitfulness as a threat. This mistake puts him at odds with God who desires to see Israel (and all humankind) prosper. I’ve written on this topic in greater length in my essay entitled “Liberation and Deliverance” In Trajectories.
While the juxtaposition between God and Pharaoh seems evident enough in the narrative, the significance of Moses’ initial attempt to help Israel tends to get lost in the shuffle. When Moses sees an Egyptian abusing Hebrew slaves, he kills the Egyptian and buries him in the sand. Moses’ actions are rejected by the Hebrews and condemned by the Egyptians. His attempt to deliver the Israelite fails. So, while Moses will ultimately be the vehicle of God’s deliverance, he cannot deliver Israel on his own terms.
Moses’ way, even if it had succeeded, would have failed. Moses would have had to run the nation in a way similar to Pharaoh; that is to say that Moses would have been as limited in his capacity to secure and prosper Israel as Pharaoh was. Moses, for instance, could not feed Israel without the same unceasing labor Pharaoh used. He could not help but see other people groups as threats to Israel.
Moses’ well-intentioned actions were futile because he was acting out of step with God. He was seeking to accomplish only a small piece of what God intended to accomplish in his deliverance of Israel. He reacted when he should have waited.
I would not suggest that we ignore injustice or shy away from confronting sin. I would, however, suggest that we cannot hide behind professional norms or commonly accepted practices for moving against sin and injustice. Professional ethics, journalistic practices, leadership principles, etc. are not the fruits of a Christian mind, but man-made constructions that set the limits of tolerance for acceptable behavior (and by extension acceptable losses). In other words, when we address injustice and confront sin we, as those who follow Christ, must not settle for the standards of our professions or the ethics of the Day. Instead, we must approach injustice and sin with a Christian mind using means fitting to the end…the glorification of God.