Author Dick Keyes once wrote, “In seeking to become like God, we have become less than human.” The biblical story says we were created to be in relationship with God. When humankind rebelled, we lost our orientation and we lost our immorality. There was nothing left to give order and meaning to our existence. Human existence became the land of the living dead.
We were made for purpose. We were made for eternity. The land of the living dead is an intolerable place to live. We create civilizations and cultures (symbolized by the city) to shelter us from our absurd existence. Inequities inevitably emerge in these cultures. Powerful elites use culture to justify and perpetuate their power. Often many are oppressed. Still, The masses honor the social structures because of the stable orderliness they bring.
But these human shelters are, in the end, little more than elaborate illusions. The illusions collapse if pressed too hard. Consequently, the aim of human culture is to keep the populace sufficiently diverted from seeing the absurdity of their existence. Idols are offered as objects of worship. These idols may take the form of graven image or something as abstract as credits in a bank account. As long as most of the people buy the illusion most of the time then all is well.
Walter Bruggemann speaks of culture creating an “eternal present.” People are deluded into believing that the way things are, is the way they have been, and always will be. The present order is the moral imperative. Those who would challenge the order are either insane or evil. They are subversive.
It is precisely into this context that a subversive God steps into the picture. He intervenes in human history. He begins by calling Abraham and starting a nation that will reflect his character to the world. It is a subversive God leading a subversive people. He leads his people into the grasp of the most powerful human illusions ever on the face of the planet, ancient Egypt.
The amazing story of the Exodus is not just one of God setting his people free. It is a story of God systematically debunking the “eternal present” of the Pharaoh and Egypt. This event points to the end of time when God will bring his people out of the “Egypt” of human culture and into the New Jerusalem. He will debunk the human pretenders and every knee shall bow.
As I mentioned, God accomplishes his mission partly by calling out a new people to model the relationship God intends between humanity and himself. Later it became the Church. The visible presence of God working in his people is a sign to the rest of the world, and a constant subversive challenge to other cultures.
So what is it about God’s called out people that make them different? What are we to make of Old Testament laws? What we are we to make of the teachings of Jesus and the New Testament Church? How do we even begin to apply these ancient texts written to a world of rapid globalization? Without the Redemptive-Movement Hermeneutic I wrote about last week, I believe we risk dangerous errors.