Saturday, April 07, 2012

Passover and the Problem of Evil

     Imagine Jihan, a poor Egyptian woman in the time of Moses. Imagine Yahweh s great act of liberation through her eyes. Like other peasants, she lives in a small village, away from the cities, scraping a meager living from the soil. Her husband has been forcibly drafted into Pharaoh s army. She knows little of events in the distant capital. Life is hard for her, but she is lucky to have three surviving children, a goat,and a cow. Fruit trees are common, and with other villagers she works a small piece of land where the barley crop is close to harvest.
     One hot day all of the water in their village turns foul and bloody. Soon they are burning of thirst, drinking bloody water that stinks of dead fish. Her youngest boy becomes sick and dies, vomiting up any of the foul liquid they get down his throat. Then come frogs covering everything, in their tents and beds, dying and rotting in the hot sun. This brings gnats as they have never seen before in their eyes, noses, and mouths.
     When madness is almost upon them, the flies come. They can't eat a bite without brushing flies off. The livestock go berserk. A plague kills all the cattle in the village, leaving the villagers afraid to salvage the meat for fear of becoming sick themselves. Yet, sickness strikes them, too. Everyone from infant to elderly is covered with painful boils, leaving them in misery whether they stand, sit, or lie down. They wonder why. They have no clue what is happening between Moses and Pharaoh.
     With a child and cow dead, hail kills the goat, leaving them with no milk, and crushes the barley. The remaining grain and fruit is consumed by locusts. They endure the terror of darkness at midday. Finally, every firstborn human and animal, of every age, dies in the middle of the night. While their grief and bewilderment is still squeezing their hearts, throats, and tears, her husband is drowned with the army in the Sea of Reeds. Jihan, now a widow in a land with no grain, no fruit, and no livestock, must sit and watch her remaining child starve.
     The story of the Exodus is surely a great story crying out that the God of Israel stands with the poor and oppressed, yet, it has deeply troubling dimensions. Most theodicies are also great but troubling stories, stories about a powerful and loving God who does nothing while children burn. The Exodus story looks different when we ask: What about Jihan?
-C. Robert Mesle, Graceland University

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