The headline in Entertainment Weekly says it all: “How Ridley Scott looked to science — not miracles — to part the Red Sea in ‘Exodus: Gods and Kings.'”
Should people of faith take umbrage? Not at all. In fact, that’s what my latest column for The Week is about.
Here’s an excerpt:
For a believer, the notion that God could use the physical laws He set in place to bring about His divine plans makes perfect sense. If anything, “it takes way more faith to believe that, ‘oh it just so happened that there was an earthquake that caused the parting of the Red Sea, at just the moment they prayed that they needed to part the [sea],'” than to believe it was a pure coincidence, Eric Metaxas, author of the book Miracles, told me during a recent podcast discussion.
Metaxas isn’t alone in thinking this way. In reading David Limbaugh’s new book, “Jesus on Trial” I discovered the term for this retroactive rationalization of a miracle — it’s something called a “God-incidence.”
Limbaugh goes on to provide a terrific example of this phenomenon, which comes from the book Deliver Us From Evil, where Ravi Zacharias recounts the story of Hien Pham, an interpreter who worked for Zacharias in 1971 as he ministered in Vietnam. Zacharias lost touch with Hein until 1988, when Hien called him out of the blue.
If you’re not familiar with it, here’s a very brief retelling of his story: Hien had been arrested when Vietnam fell to the Communists. They put him in a propaganda reeducation prison, where Hien was forbidden to read the Bible, or anything in English. One night, he began to doubt his faith. The next morning, he was assigned to clean the latrines.
Having been deprived of the Bible, or anything printed in English, the very day after Hien almost gave up, he found a crumpled and damp piece of paper with Romans 8:28-39 on it. Included in that text are the words: “If God is for us, who can be against us?” The Communists had been using the Bible for toilet paper, but had inadvertently provided him with a message of hope.
One might scoff that this was a miracle. Certainly, there is nothing glamorous about this. But from there, the plot only thickens. He later plans to escape the country, but interrogated by four Communists about the plot. He denies involvement, but then regrets this, vowing to tell the truth the next time.
The four men come back, and this time he dares to tell them the truth. They say they want to escape, too. And they do. Until a storm almost sinks there boat. As Zacharias writes, Hien “fell with his face in his hands, crying out to God, “Did you bring us here to die?” It turned out, however, that the only reason he survived was because of “the sailing ability of those four Vietcong.”
… Back to Moses: An even more sanitized explanation comes to us from Dr. Bruce Parker, who suggests Moses might have simply known when it was low tide. Unlike the tsunami explanation, this one seeks to remove every possibility that the Children of Israel were saved by miraculous means. (Though even Parker concedes that “If the tide was indeed involved in Moses’ ‘parting’ of the Red Sea, it has to qualify as the most dramatic and consequential tide prediction in history.”)
Occam’s razor suggests the simplest explanation is usually the correct one — but many, many calories that have been burned to explain away the miraculous parting of the Red Sea. What is more, to do so within the context of a movie — a medium which normally seeks to make the routine seem miraculous — speaks to the modern bias toward materialism and positivism, and against the mystical or numinous.
No word yet as to whether or not Ridley Scott tackles what all that manna falling from heaven was. Maybe he’s saving that for the sequel?