Fox Byte 5775 #14: Va’Era (And I Appeared)

וַיֵּרָא

The "Smite Button" cartoon remains one of Gary Larson's most popular offerings from The Far Side.  For a twist on the cartoon, with direct application to the Ten Plagues of Egypt, see "God's Defeat of the False Egyptian Gods" at Catholic All Year.
The “Smite Button” cartoon remains one of Gary Larson’s most popular offerings from The Far Side. For a twist on the cartoon, with direct application to the Ten Plagues of Egypt, see “God’s Defeat of the False Egyptian Gods” at Catholic All Year.

One of those cultural icons of the post-modern era is Gary Larson’s cartoon series, The Far Side.  Larson retired the series in 1995 after only 15 years, but the cartoons remain very popular.  Their irreverent, bizarre depictions of people and circumstances continue to amuse, but more importantly, cause people to think about things we consider “normal”.  Such is the case of Larson’s cartoon, “God at His computer”.  The picture shows the Almighty sitting at a computer, with an image on the screen of a hapless victim walking under a piano suspended by a rope.  God’s finger hovers over the keyboard, about to press a button labelled “Smite”.

There is no question that this particular cartoon is irreverent.  Some might call it blasphemous.  But why is it that humor is the most common reaction to this cartoon?  Is it because we have this innate tendency to laugh at the misfortunes of other people – perhaps glad that the misfortune is not our own?  Probably; comics and sadists have played on that tendency for centuries, all too frequently with tragic results.  What strikes the chord in this particular cartoon, though, is that Gary Larson points to God as the cause of misfortune.  In this case he is merely highlighting something we would rather not admit:  our perception that God really does cause evil in the world, regardless how we might try to avoid it.  This perception is rooted much deeper than we may be aware.  Why, for instance, do contracts and insurance policies make allowances relieving the contracting parties from responsibility in the case of “acts of God”?  Something like a tornado, earthquake, or other natural disaster, is an unforeseen event that no one can predict or prepare for, and thus no one can be held responsible for its effects.  No one, that is, except God, the self-proclaimed Creator and Almighty Power of the universe.  God, therefore, gets the blame.

But why?  How did this all get started?  What established our tendency to think of the Creator as a capricious being ready to press the “Smite” button?  And is it fair or right to blame God for misfortune?  To find the answers we must travel far back in time, to the beginning of humanity’s existence.  No doubt our earliest ancestors began blaming God for their problems soon after He expelled them from the Garden of Eden.  However, what most likely caused us to think collectively about God in this way was His judgment on Egypt.

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Loving Father or Unpredictable Tyrant: A Question About God’s Mercy

Moses (Charlton Heston) confronts Pharaoh (Yul Brynner) in Cecil B. DeMIlle's The Ten Commandments
Moses (Charlton Heston) confronts Pharaoh (Yul Brynner) in Cecil B. DeMIlle’s The Ten Commandments

Does God intentionally create people to do evil for His glory?  This question arose in a Bible study I attended recently.  The man who asked the question confessed his difficulty in understanding why God would harden Pharaoh’s heart when Moses went to him with God’s demand that he release Israel from Egypt.  This point first comes up at the Burning Bush, where God explains to Moses his mission:

And the LORD said to Moses, “When you go back to Egypt, see that you do all those wonders before Pharaoh which I have put in your hand.  But I will harden his heart, so that he will not let the people go.”  (Exodus 4:21 NKJV, emphasis added)

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