God as Tiny Tim
In the recent Exodus movie Moses ends up dialoguing with the Great I Am, otherwise known as God. I will admit that for Hollywood it is a challenge to depict the Almighty but in this particular cinematic venture God is portrayed as a young boy whose face is often a bit grimy and who speaks with a British accent.
That is a bit of a reach since in the Hebrew Bible God’s name could not even be written because it was so holy and removed from human reach. The writers of the sacred text would substitute “adonai” or “Lord” instead of using the word “God.”
The filmmakers did not let such holy otherness get in the way so God comes off as a mixture of a young Jedi Master and Tiny Tim. Actually believe it or not that is not the part that bothers me. Portraying the divine has always been a bit of challenge and should be.
It is what “the kid” does that concerns me. After Tiny Tim convinces a reluctant Moses that he should return to Egypt to pronounce the famous “let my people go” speech, Moses goes back and decides the way to free the long pent up slaves is to teach them guerrilla warfare and how to shot bows and arrows from ever position possible.
Tiny Tim is not pleased with this strategy. It may be because according to my Bible such beat’em by armed might technique simply is not there. So God gets mad and like an angry child tells Moses to bug off and get out of the way. Of course that part is not in the original story either but remember the creators of this version never let the bible get in the way of a good story.
When Moses shouts at Tiny Tim and asks how he is supposed to free the slaves without force “God” simply says, “I don’t want you to do anything.” “What am I supposed to do then,” responds an astounded Moses. With his best Jedi Master look God simply says, “Watch.”
Then comes the part that is really troubling. The plagues start happening like some wild video game. The Nile turns red with blood because huge alligators that resemble something out of a bad Disney movie start chomping on unsuspecting Egyptian fishermen. Then come a series of calamities all getting worse than the one before including frogs, flies, boils that no cortisone cream can soothe, hail like the size of softballs, and finally a shadow that comes over all of Egypt that looks very much like that scene in the War of the Worlds when the aliens overshadowed all the good people on earth.
As the shadow passes over all the first born of Egypt have sudden cardiac arrests including Pharaoh’s prize possession, his only son. It is truly awful.
God comes off as a very spoiled kid who is used to having his way or else. As a working theologian this kind of stuff is not good for business. I have enough trouble trying to deal with “why bad things happen to good people” without movies like this making God out even more capricious and calculating than the original story implies.
All this is to say that when I try to interpret the Old Testament to people who say something like, “How this angry and vengeful God can be the same God that Jesus calls “Abba, Father,” I tell them that the Old Testament is a bit like the Grand Canyon. You cannot take one of the many layers and dig it out and then say, “Now this is the Old Testament.” Quite frankly some of those layers need to be mined and explored.
The realization that there are some newer layers on top is good to know also. Some of those early layers in the Old Testament are what you might call “heavily theologized” renditions of what happened. It is often the theological view of the writers and editors that we witness when we hear the story.
This Christmas again we will hear the story of a God becoming a child. This time it is not a Tiny Tim look alike but the real thing. What this child ends up doing helps us take another look at those layers. It seems that one reason Jesus comes is to help us get a better picture of the real God.
This child of Christmas does not say “watch” but asks us to participate in the healing of the nations rather than the destroying of them. An historical examination of those plagues that were done with all those special effects by Hollywood can reveal some rather natural explanations of how those “natural disasters” may have happened rather than being the result of a vengeful, angry God who acts like a spoiled child.
If you want to wrestle with what the Bible means and not just what it says for God’s sake, and I’m not using that phrase lightly, do not pay much attention to what you see on the big screen. The recent Exodus movie makes for good special effects but the Bible needs to be viewed absent the popcorn version.
I know God will appreciate that and Tiny Tim probably would too. God bless us everyone.