How much difference a generation makes! As we read in today’s OT lesson (Exodus 1:6-22), Joseph and his brothers eventually died. And so did Pharaoh. And that was a problem. The new Pharaoh became jealous of the Israelites and their success, so they started to change the way the foreigners were handled. Resentment became open hostility, and soon the leader of Egypt was ordering that Israelite boys should be killed to prevent that nation from growing too strong. The Israelites were subjected to harsh, slave-like working conditions. They were no longer welcome.
Sometimes corporate memory fails us. Most of the time, as the years have gone by, the passing of one generation leads to a more egalitarian society. Think, for example, how conversations about race and race relations have changed in the south as our grandparents have died. Even the language that betrays unspoken attitudes has changed as those who never knew integration as adolescents have died. But other times our failure to remember looks more like that of the Egyptians—bitter, angry, resentful, and racist.
In WWII, Japanese-Americans, who had once been welcomed members of our society, were interred out of fear. After 9/11, many of us forgot what we had learned about Islam in elementary school—how that faith shares so much in common with Judaism and Christianity—and instead became suspicious of anyone who identified himself as a Muslim. That pattern of forgetting isn’t just enacted on racial/national lines. There’s a spiritual element to it as well.
If we look back over human history, we can see how God’s protective and gracious hand has sustained us. Egypt into Promised Land. Babylonian Captivity into Freedom. Roman Occupation into Jesus’ Gentile Liberation. Even Holocaust into this new era. But when we take the short-term view, it’s easy to develop the same forgetful approach that the new Pharaoh adopted. Where is God now? Things are tough. Why won’t he help us? Maybe we should turn to other sources for sustenance. Maybe we should build a golden calf and worship it.
We all go through rough patches. Being a follower of God does not mean that we are immune from trial. In fact, some of us will live our entire lives right on the edge of tragedy. But God’s view is bigger than one generation. His salvation is not only individual. It is communal and corporate. We must search for reminders of God’s salvation—especially when we’re in a place that makes it easy to forget. It cannot simply be our duty to recall that God is good. Our nearsightedness is too profound. We must rely on stories that go beyond our own generation. Faith is an exercise in history.