“Our impulse is to run from this moment, to pretend that our merciful God has not transformed Himself into a God who snuffs out the lives of children. But this story exists for a reason, and perhaps not the one often assumed. The plagues suffered by the Egyptians are meant not merely to serve as expedient metaphors. This is a political story, yes, but one with a harsh and morally problematical lesson about the price of freedom.
“There is no such thing as an immaculate liberation. It is naïve to think that the defeat of evil comes without cost. Today, we retreat in disgust at the thought of collective punishment: Justice punishes the guilty and spares the innocent. And yet how else could we describe the plagues?
“And don’t we sometimes behave today as the God of Exodus behaved? Don’t we impose sanctions on dictatorships and by doing so cause hardship for the guiltless? Haven’t we made heroes of men who have deliberately taken the lives of thousands of innocents? Three of the most revered presidents in American history—Abraham Lincoln, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and Harry Truman—inflicted merciless punishment on civilians. The causes they stood for were just, but did the innocent sufferers deserve their fate? Why did God harden Pharaoh’s heart against the Jews, even after it seemed Pharaoh was ready to let them go? Did God want to make a point—‘Don’t even think of challenging me’? Why did America shower death on Nagasaki, when it seemed that the Japanese were readying themselves to surrender? Was the firebombing of German cities so necessary as to neutralize all moral qualms? The Exodus story ends in freedom for Jews; the Civil War ended with freedom for African-Americans; World War II ended with fascism utterly vanquished, and the death camps liberated. Can we say that the ends didn’t justify the means?”
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