Sunday, April 5, 2015

His own work in His own way

Dear Anonymous,

In the 1998 animated film Prince of Egypt there is a scene where Moses lifts his staff over the Red Sea and then dramatically slams it down into the water. The sea parts, accompanied by the masterful music of Hans Zimmer, and makes a path for the children of Israel to escape the armies of pharaoh. It makes for an impressive, albeit physics defying, visual image. As a point of story telling it is used as a wonderful reconciliation scene for many major and minor characters (such as, Moses and Aaron, Aaron and a camel, an old lady and a young child, etc.).

As a part of story craft it is one of the better scenes ever put into a movie because it says so much with so few words. It is a moving and touching scene that has moisened many eyes. I'm sure that there are many out there who would testify that while watching that scene the Spirit witnessed to them of the truthfulness of what happened.

Here's the thing. I could point out the physical impossibility of that scene as it is depicted, but I don't think anyone who has been significantly moved by it would be interested in a dry exposition on why the physics just doesn't work. Some would simply respond, "But it's a miracle and God can do whatever He wants!"

I'm sure that others would encourage me to not be "quick to dilute it so, nor dismiss it" and would further encourage me to "Pray and try again" to know that it is true.

The problem is that the portrayal of the parting of the Red Sea in the Prince of Egypt not only defies physics but also is not in agreement with what is found in scripture. Furthermore if we hold to the parting of the sea as depicted in the Prince of Egypt then we actually miss an important insight into how God performs His work with and through His children.

In D&C 8:3 God states, "Now, behold, this is the spirit of revelation; behold, this is the spirit by which Moses brought the children of Israel through the Red Sea on dry ground."

Note, He did not say, "this is the spirit of suspending the laws of nature" or "this is the spirit of I can do whatever I want because I'm God!" He said what brought the children of Israel through the sea was revelation to Moses, not a suspension of the laws of physics. In my younger years I remember many discussions in Seminary where LDS youth would read that passage in D&C and then try to reconcile it with their perception of how Moses parted the Red Sea. I remember some people wondering how an obvious display of magic (à la Prince of Egypt or Cecil B. DeMille) is an example of the spirit of revelation. In my time I heard many attempts to reconcile the two.

It was not until years later that I realized what the problem was. LDS youth were influenced by artistic portrayals of the Exodus story and were mistaking the art for the reality. With an incorrect concept of what happened it made it difficult to reconcile an important insight into the nature of prophets, revelation and miracles with what we thought had happened. The reconciliation and simple understanding of what Moses and God did in reality is limited by our perception of what happened. If we start with an incorrect assumption it makes it difficult to come to a previously unknown, but true and important, conclusion.

The difficulty for me is that I will be misunderstood. Some may view my critique of the various portrayals of the Exodus story as casting doubt on the veracity of the Exodus or on the power and grandeur of God. The danger is that some of us have a particular view of what it means for God to be powerful, but rather than question our assumptions we question anyone who says otherwise. God can still be powerful without suspending the laws of physics.

So did the Exodus happen? Yes. Did it happen in the way portrayed in the movies? No. But that does not challenge the glory of God. It only demonstrates the limited understanding of man. If we allow ourselves to be led by God He will show us how He does His own work in His own way.

1 comment:

LL said...

We all have an innate tendency to counsel God and to twist things to fit our sensibilities. And while it does work for art, one must differentiate that from testimony.