Greg Teaching on the Plagues
(Didn't have a great picture for this! )
Greg is teaching about the ten plagues in his Exodus class this week. We’ve been talking about the story at home, about how one of the ways to look at the story is that the plagues demonstrated God’s power over the things that the Egyptians trusted in, perhaps even targeting Egypt’s gods one by one. So for today’s class quiz, Greg used a question I had suggested as an idea: “if God sent plagues today to show his strength against the things we trust in today, what would those plagues look like?” Personally, I was concerned that the responses might look a bit too much like real life in Malawi – power outages, floods, droughts, cholera, fuel shortages, the devaluation of the currency by 50% in one year. It was interesting, then, when Greg did ask the question, only a couple of students grasped the question, from the rest of the class he was met with blank stares. Of course, he’s really pushing the envelope in teaching by asking for an interpretation or life application instead of just a reiteration of items for the reading – he knew that and so he spent the first five or ten minutes of the quiz talking about the concept. After that, one student, the child of a missionary, raised his hand and offered up the idea of something like Y2K, or all electronics in the world going out at once. “Yes!” Greg said, “that’s a great example. Anyone else?” No other thoughts were offered, so the class moved forward. (Another answer actually written by a student in the quiz ended up being “That all false prophets could no longer speak.” An amazing and creative idea.)
They discussed the gods of Egypt – some of the class suggested strongly that these were entities which were entirely fabricated, based on convenience and dependencies on an agrarian society. Others started mentioning that these could be actual entities, true spiritual powers with the ability to influence outcomes on this earth. Greg made it clear to the class that even if these gods were real, they were definitely part of creation, beings created by God, though now fallen. And the plagues, he explained showed that God had power over all of creation, including any other earthly powers. Actually, he went on to explain, another way to look at the plagues is creation amid the relative absence of God. Creation is structured and ordered and good. Without God however, that is no longer the case. Pharoah wanted to be God, God let him have his way, but without the creator of life, light and everything else, there was only darkness, death and chaos. It did not work out to well for Pharoah.
Returning to the topic of “powers” other than God, Greg changed the topic to another real-life implication. “I have been thinking about these things recently,” he began, “because this month there was a tragedy with one of the pastors we’ve been working with. He was a great guy who was doing amazing things for his community, building churches and brining water and education. But he was driving his motorbike in a storm, and he was struck by lightning and he died.” Greg went on to explain that as an outsider, he was curious to know how people might interpret what happened. He was concerned that people might think that God had struck this pastor down. “No!” the entire class nearly roared at once. Being struck by lightening in Malawi was not an act of God, it seemed. “How about random chance?” Most likely the most common answer by far that westerners would give, there was also a decent amount of agreement from the class for this possibility. Greg then asked the class, what would people in the village say, how would they explain what happened. No one would speak up directly, but there was a lot of whispering. Whispering so loud, in fact, that Greg could hear multiple people mentioning the word “witchcraft.” He asked the class again and again, but nobody spoke up. Finally, he said, “So I hear people mentioning curses and witchcraft. Do you think people would say that this pastor was cursed by spirits?” The response was a crowd of students answering in the affirmative with various sounds.
Greg went on to explain that the idea of spirits and curses killing someone by lightening was the same as the concept of Egypt’s gods having power, and that a key point of the Exodus narrative is that God has power over all of creation, including spirits and powers of evil. That other “powers” are not powerful at all next to God. This is definitely a novel concept for many in Malawi, many people in Malawi would say that God operates in his own sphere of influence and spirits operate in their own sphere of influence, with little interaction in between. This is a big part of what we are aiming to address with theological education in the colleges and transformational development in the villages – that God has power over all of creation, and that he has power over spirits and curses. That might be harder to explain – why a good pastor might be struck by lightening if God was all-powerful, but it’s a different discussion than the one circulating in our church circles currently, which is essentially “Who’s next? I heard that someone else is cursed!” Fortunately for Greg, he still has most of his semester ahead of him, and he has a bit more time to try and influence these 78 young minds about what the scripture narrative might mean for their own lives and their own theology. In the village, too, we are making plans to visit the pastor’s widow, to affirm the good work being done in the community, and perhaps even to do a teaching about Cholera and what the people of the church can do to bring hope and healing to their communities.