It was the final night of Vacation Bible School at Sweet Fellowship Baptist Church. Parents filled the sanctuary, eager to hear the songs and stories that their children had learned during the week. Four lively 5-year-old boys jumped up to offer their dramatic presentation of Moses and the Hebrew slaves leaving Egypt. Wielding their plastic swords, the boys especially liked playing the mean Pharaoh and his army who would not let the people go.
With a little prompting, Moses stood with his shepherd staff before Pharaoh and pleaded, "Pharaoh, the people are tired of being beat up. Let the people go." With the sword swirling, Pharaoh yelled, "Never!" Young Moses left the room, returning in a few moments to plead again. I whispered into Pharaoh's little ear: "Say Never, never, never!'"
But Pharaoh had other ideas. He jumped down from his throne and said, "I'm tired of being mean. I don't want to be mean anymore. All of you can go, just go!" Then he threw his sword on the floor, walked over to Moses, and draped his arm around his shoulder and said, "Come on, let's go play."
I must admit that this drastic revision of the biblical story appeals to my longings for peace and reconciliation. I would like all the conflicts with the terrorizing pharaohs within me and around me to end in "Let's go play." Imagine meanness halting in the world due to fatigue. And yet it is the unaltered biblical story in all its messiness that speaks most honestly to my spiritual journey.
MANY OF THE CONFLICTS in my life did not end in a peace treaty. Some of my conflicts have even been exacerbated by efforts to reach resolution.
Why does the path to peace so often pass through the desert of desertion? After 400 years of slavery, why didn't the Hebrew slaves hang in there another 100 years or so to reach a negotiated settlement with Pharaoh? What happens when our loyalties clash with our liberation?
Just when I become practiced in the art of waving my fist and demanding my rights, I can get a divine yank that lands me in a wilderness of the baffled. You can recognize me in the crowd. I am the one still holding desperately to my plan for one more attempt to make peace. I am the one brooding, looking back at the scattered remnants of my life, wondering how I could have avoided this failure.
But God nudges us into conflict with our soul, twisting the questions. Can we let Pharaoh go, with all those promises of security? Can we walk into the shifting desert sands, with their all too-uncertain future, to follow God's call for liberation? God's relentless cry to "Let my people go" comes with the call to serve: Let my people go so that they may worship me in the wilderness.
The desert exposes our true loyalties. We get an unobstructed view of who and what we have truly relied on. Titles, positions, salaries, portfolios, political agendas all is revealed. Can we stand the glimpse of God alone?
God's radical call to freedom often means leaving the only home we have ever known to find our true home in God. The route to peace is a severe one. The holy path is winding and demands full and total trust in divine intervention. In the trek, however, we may learn to let our pharaohs go.
Nancy Hastings Sehested was a Baptist preacher and state prison chaplain living in the mountains of North Carolina when this article appeared.