Sometimes the truth is too unbelievable


For the week of January 10, 2015 / 19 Tevet 5775
Torah: Shemot/Exodus 1:1 - 6:1
Haftarah: Isaiah 27:6 - 28:13; 29:22-23

Exodus: The Book Is Better

Then the LORD said, "I have surely seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt and have heard their cry because of their taskmasters. I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey, to the place of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites." (Shemot/Exodus 3:7-8)

I really like the t-shirt a friend of mine was wearing some time ago, which had an image of a cinema and the words, "Movies - Ruining the book since 1920." Don't get me wrong! I love movies - or perhaps I should say, I love the movies I love. Movies can be a powerful and beautiful art form. Be that as it may, it is rare that a film rendition of a well-crafted book is as good as or better than the original. That's true for several reasons, but especially due to the differences between the two media. The written word can often communicate descriptive detail much more efficiently than a movie can, which is why most films usually leave out all sorts of essential aspects of a book. Movies also have a tendency to make explicate and overt book elements originally designed to be implicate and subtle. This has a great effect on tone and mood, which can obscure a story's intended meaning. Books offer readers the opportunity to ponder and reflect as they move through a story, while movies dictate the pace and flow of what's presented. None of this need make the movie version bad. My point is that movies by their very nature cannot effectively and accurately convey something originally presented in a book.

In addition to these inherent issues due to the differences in media, there appears to be other reasons why movies tend to misrepresent the books they are based on. These may include personal bias, a specific agenda, and/or market considerations if the goal is financial success. `I don't know what motivated the producers of the currently playing Bible-based movie Exodus Gods and Kings, but I would like to suggest why any attempt at a financially successful film adaptation of the actual Exodus story will likely never happen, at least not in most societies today. It seems to me that the original story is too farfetched for contemporary audiences. By that I am not saying the Bible is untrue; it's that the truth it reveals is outside of most people's worldview. If the average audience was exposed to the actual events as presented by Scripture, the significance of these events would go over their heads. They might be dazzled by the special effects, they might empathize with the suffering of the people of Israel in their oppression in Egypt, they might relate to Moses as the confused hero, they may cheer as the Egyptian bad guys get theirs and the underdog Hebrews march out in victory, but they won't get the story. They won't get the story, because deep down, they won't believe it. They won't believe it, because deeper down still, they don't want to.

What is that story? It's the story that is basic to the whole Bible. It's the story that depicts the true nature of human beings while also revealing the essence of who God really is. Through the Book of Exodus we see a mirror of life. We are all like the Israelites in Egypt, helpless to rescue ourselves from the oppression of evil. When anyone tries to resolve the human predicament their own way, just like Moses, dismal failure is the result. That failure may not be as immediate as what Moses experienced, but eventually every humanly derived solution creates more problems. It's only when God himself, in his time and in his way, as he eventually did through Moses, initiates the solution that we can be rescued.

Our inability to rescue ourselves is too distasteful a storyline to become a blockbuster movie. If God comes into the picture at all, he at least must do so under the guise of "God helps those who help themselves." We're okay with that. He can even do a few miracles for effect. But we cannot accept him as the star of the show with people being the supporting actors. That's unacceptable; too humiliating.

So don't expect an accurate Exodus movie for some time. But forget the movies for now. The Book tells us that this is not just a story. It's not even "based on a true story." It's real life. The same God who "came down" to rescue the Israelites from bondage in Egypt has come down in the person of the Messiah to rescue you from your bondage. And if you are ready to accept the unpopular truth that you can't rescue yourself, and are willing to let God do for you what you cannot do for yourself, then your story is just beginning.

Unless otherwise noted, scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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