I have Seen the Affliction of My People …

It was not Israel’s fault that they went down to Egypt, that dark occult land. It was by God’s plan that they went; it could not be avoided. Moreover, according to the prophecy to Abraham, it was by divine design that they become slaves and oppressed there for four hundred years (Gen. 15:13). When we step back and consider the misery with which God’s plan brought upon His people, we are astounded, and perhaps even appalled. Think of the generations lost to all hope, their women and daughters abused, men and boys mercilessly driven by the whip, their lives counting for nothing to their tormentors. We know that in time they lost all memory of their God, the God of their fathers. Ignorant, uneducated, they easily lost moral sensitivities, and fell into the paganism around them. How this could be the will of God for them cannot be accounted for by human reason. It seems that if God does have a design, it turns like some galactic wheel that randomly crushes countless hapless souls along its unfathomable way.

Then God suddenly breaks into space and time with “I have surely seen (emphatic in Hebrew) the affliction of my people who are in Egypt, and have heard their cry because of their taskmasters; I know their sufferings…” (Ex. 3:7). We are struck by the unaffected divine expression of words and phrases. There is no attempt to explain the past. All there is now is the urgent present. Indeed, that is all any of us have, even when God is silent for vast swaths of time when nothing good seems to be happening. God sees, hears, and knows it all all along. A soul that disposes itself towards God will embrace this in the face of the inexplicable. This is exactly what God expects of Moses and His people. Nothing has changed since this timeless ancient text; God expects this from us all.

That God expects us to believe and understand that He sees, hears, and knows us in our afflictions individually and as a human race is an astounding thought. Pagan gods do not speak this sort of language. They were aloof to human concerns in the main, unless something about the human drama concerned them. The best one could expect was to devote oneself to the nature gods with whom one has to deal, resort to magic, and thrash around in life the best one could. Today’s complex post-Christian cultures do not fare any better with this. Since Voltaire mocked the idea that God sees, hears, and knows our affliction in Candide, the western world trembles before suffering as if it has the ultimate word. We dare not hope, and thrash around in life the best we can.

Voltaire would be right but for one miscalculation. In spite of God’s incomprehensible ways, God still encounters humanity in myriads of ways like He did to Moses at the bush, keeping the flame in our internal sanctuaries burning. As with Moses, once we experience encounter, we know that we know God and that He is more real than anything our senses and reason can reveal to us. Many times it seems that we stand in this naked faith against the howling and icy winds of doubt, but stand we do. When we do, we see that God has been intimate with us and our afflictions all along, both those which we brought upon ourselves, and those that fell upon us by divine providence. We cannot see how God was present with those Hebrew slaves that suffered so badly over those four hundred years. All we have are those timeless words, “I have seen the affliction of my people…,” and if so graced, an encounter with the living God.

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