Bible · Climate Change

They Groaned In Their Slavery

In Isaiah 65, when we read about God’s promise of a ‘new heaven and a new earth,’ God says – “Before they call, I will answer.”

But at the start of the Exodus narrative, it seems that it is the cry of the Hebrew people that comes first. They have been in Egypt for 400 years, since the time of Joseph, and their situation has gone from being privileged strangers to slaves.

Their plight is extreme, and in Exodus chapter 2 verse 23, we read “The Israelites groaned in their slavery and cried out …”

Straight away after those words, we read that God heard their cry for help -“and their cry for help because of their slavery went up to God.”

God’s response is to call Moses as God’s human agent to bring about change, that ultimately results in liberation from the life of slavery in Egypt to journey to the land of promise.

But there’s quite a way to go before any of that, notably the 10 plagues that come to Egypt. Walter Brueggemann was asked why did there need to be 10 plagues. His answer was partly to do with the dramatic telling of the story. It’s to build the tension. Will they or won’t they be able to leave Egypt ? We know that kind of tension in storytelling, where you know what’s coming, or at least what should be coming, but again and again there are false starts, because that’s often how life is.

I was reminded of that this week very powerfully as I listened to the story of John Godsall, who was taken prisoner in Kuwait during the first Iraq war, and spent four and a half months with hundreds of other captives being taken round various military and civil installations in the south of Iraq and used as a human shield. He describes most movingly how time and time again his captors told him that the day for his release had arrived, only for his captors to laugh when it clearly wasn’t going to happen. John buried his traumatic experience for 28 years, appearing to say, as other hostages also said, that they were well treated whilst in captivity. It’s only recently that he has felt able to talk openly about the truth of these dark months.

That real life story shines a light on the way the Exodus story is told, repeatedly giving hope to Moses and his people, and then snatching it away.

This is such a time. We are groaning in our slavery to the system that threatens planet earth. Maybe God has heard that cry, and has sent people like Greta Thunberg, and the activists who have come together under the Extinction Rebellion banner. But time and again we hear promises, but not enough in the way of action.

I read about a conversation that Queen Elizabeth was having at the opening of the Welsh parliament yesterday, where the Queen has been caught on microphone criticising world leaders who “talk” but “don’t do” when it comes to climate change. During a conversation at the opening of the parliament in Cardiff, she told the Duchess of Cornwall and Elin Jones, the parliament’s presiding officer: “Extraordinary isn’t it… I’ve been hearing all about COP[26]… still don’t know who is coming… no idea. We only know about people who are not coming… It’s really irritating when they talk, but they don’t do.”

Another royal, Prince William has something very similar in an interview about the ‘Earthshot Prize’ – where he is clearly speaking about the space race and space tourism when he says: “We need some of the world’s greatest brains and minds fixed on trying to repair this planet, not trying to find the next place to go and live.”

The Exodus story may be an encouragement to keep going, and holding out the hope of a sustainable future for the generations yet to come.

Grace and Peace

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