The Faith That Saved Moses

We’ve been talking about faith: What it is, how it can be used. Jesus called it one of the “weightier matters of the law.” Today we’re turning to the faith of Moses.

By faith Moses, when he was born, was hidden for three months by his parents, because they saw he was a beautiful child; and they were not afraid of the king’s edict. (Hebrews 11:23)

The story of Moses begins in Exodus 1. The Israelites had been relocated in Egypt. They had grown to be a great nation.

 Joseph died, and all his brothers and all that generation. But the sons of Israel were fruitful and increased greatly, and multiplied, and became exceedingly mighty, so that the land was filled with them.  Now a new king arose over Egypt, who did not know Joseph. He said to his people, “Behold, the people of the sons of Israel are more and mightier than we. Come, let us deal wisely with them, or else they will multiply and in the event of war, they will also join themselves to those who hate us, and fight against us and depart from the land.” So they appointed taskmasters over them to afflict them with hard labor. And they built for Pharaoh storage cities, Pithom and Raamses. But the more they afflicted them, the more they multiplied and the more they spread out, so that they were in dread of the sons of Israel. The Egyptians compelled the sons of Israel to labor rigorously; and they made their lives bitter with hard labor in mortar and bricks and at all kinds of labor in the field, all their labors which they rigorously imposed on them.  Then the king of Egypt spoke to the Hebrew midwives, one of whom was named Shiphrah and the other was named Puah; and he said, “When you are helping the Hebrew women to give birth and see them upon the birthstool, if it is a son, then you shall put him to death; but if it is a daughter, then she shall live.” But the midwives feared God, and did not do as the king of Egypt had commanded them, but let the boys live. So the king of Egypt called for the midwives and said to them, “Why have you done this thing, and let the boys live?” The midwives said to Pharaoh, “Because the Hebrew women are not as the Egyptian women; for they are vigorous and give birth before the midwife can get to them.” So God was good to the midwives, and the people multiplied, and became very mighty. Because the midwives feared God, He established households for them. Then Pharaoh commanded all his people, saying, “Every son who is born you are to cast into the Nile, and every daughter you are to keep alive.” (Exodus 1:6-22)

The story raises many questions about faith and its role, and what it actually does. We usually see faith as something that doesn’t need our help, and yet here we see God underwriting, or at least affirming, actual duplicity. First of all, the law of the land was that the midwives should kill the boys upon delivery from the womb. But instead they made up a story that they were unable to get to the Hebrew women in time to be present at delivery.

And when Moses was born and put into a basket on the Nile, the Pharaoh’s daughter found him, and Moses’ sister, who had been watching, offered to find a wet nurse. As though it were a miracle by God, it just so happened that this girl was nearby who just so happened to know a wet nurse (actually, her and Moses’ real mother) with enough milk to do the job.

To me, this always had connotations concerning faith. Why wouldn’t faith just leave these actions to God? Why do you have to be involved in hiding, in duplicity, in telling a lie, in order to make faith come alive? Wouldn’t faith just leave these actions to God, rather than being so deliberate in their influence? Hebrews says it was faith that made them hide him for three months. Why do you need to hide, if your faith in God is strong?

Though not explicitly stated in the story of Moses, it’s easy to see the implication that the reason behind all of this is so that no generation can be the last one. The parents of Moses sought to pass on their heritage, their culture, and above all their faith through their son. Is it possible to pass on faith? What does it mean when we say that we are passing on our faith? Is it possible to pass on all the stages of faith? Is it possible to pass on, for example, the skeptical stage three, or the mystical stage four?

Last night I witnessed via Livestream the bar mitzvah of a young Jewish boy. As he read in Hebrew from the Torah, I was reminded of this lesson about the passing on of faith and wondered how and why we do it. The boy pledged to follow the laws of God and fealty to his community of faith, the Jewish people.

Almost all transition events of life, birth, death, marriage, coming of age, even educational achievements and graduations, are laced with faith-based traditions. They’re all designed to pass on a faith. We see this concept emphasized when Joshua was coming to the end of his life and talked to the people of Israel about their faith. He said:

“Now, therefore, fear the Lord and serve Him in sincerity and truth; and put away the gods which your fathers served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord. If it is disagreeable in your sight to serve the Lord, choose for yourselves today whom you will serve: whether the gods which your fathers served which were beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living; but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” (Joshua 24:14-15)

Here, Joshua lays claim to the idea that he can pass on the faith. But he not only affirms that he can pass on the faith, but also that he has passed on the faith. We see that this passing on of faith has a very tenuous lifespan:

All that generation also were gathered to their fathers; and there arose another generation after them who did not know the Lord, nor yet the work which He had done for Israel. (Judges 2:10)

The passage goes on to talk about their turning their backs on God. Paul gave an illustration of passing on faith in writing to Timothy, his understudy:

For I am mindful of the sincere faith within you, which first dwelt in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice, and I am sure that it is in you as well. (2 Timothy 1:5)

We see a similar notion in Psalms regarding the idea of passing on faith:

I will extol You, my God, O King, And I will bless Your name forever and ever. Every day I will bless You, And I will praise Your name forever and ever. … Men shall speak of the power of Your awesome acts, And I will tell of Your greatness. They shall eagerly utter the memory of Your abundant goodness And will shout joyfully of Your righteousness. (Psalm 145:1-2; 6-7)

The psalm goes on to talk about how the forefathers talked about their faith, and about the good things that God did for them. If faith can be passed along, how and by what means is it passed along? Whose responsibility is it to pass on the faith? Is it parents’ responsibility to pass on faith to their children? Is it the faith community’s responsibility? Does it occur with intention, or is it something which is primarily a passive exercise, passed on primarily by osmosis? Is it really faith that is passed along anyway? Or is it belief that we pass along? Do we actually pass on our understanding of who God is? Do we pass along instead the rituals and the practices of our own belief?

Children mimic the religious experience of their parents. Do we seize every opportunity to teach our children in teachable moments; to speak to them of who God is? Is it even possible for us to speak with interest and with intent about God to our children?

A Pew research study done in October of 2016 addressed the link between childhood religious upbringing and current religious identity. It compared how children were raised in a faith and what they were practicing as faith in adulthood. People from mixed religious backgrounds take a variety of spiritual paths, with many adopting their mother’s religion as their own, fewer choosing to identify with their father’s faith, and still others opting for neither., as adults Indeed, the survey makes clear that many Americans—even among those raised In a single religion—ultimately adopt a religious entity that is completely different than the faith of their parents.

But one matter regarding the passing on of religious identity from one generation to the next is clear: Amongst those who are raised in a single religious background, especially within Protestantism, the family’s religious commitment is closely linked with retaining one’s religion into adulthood. Those adults who say religion was important to their family while growing up and whose parents frequently discussed religion are more likely than others to continue to identify with the parents’ religion as adults.

One of the statistics associated with this is that amongst those who say they are raised exclusively by Protestants roughly 80% of those raised by two parents and 75% raised by a single parent now identify with Protestantism. Most who were raised exclusively by Protestants, but who no longer identify as such, do not accept another religion but become “Nones”, that is, no religion, with smaller numbers now identifying with Catholicism than with other religions.

So we’re talking today about how to pass on our faith. Is it faith that we are actually passing on? And if so, how is it done? What stages of faith can we or do we pass along? When we talk about passing on faith we’re usually talking about parents to children, but is it also possible for one generation to pass it on to the same generation? Can we pass on our faith between ourselves? Or is it only something that we do from one generation to the other? What does it actually mean to pass on faith? We’re talking about the faith of Moses—where does it come from?—and the need for faith to be activated by your upbringing.

Donald: To be honest, I’d be more comfortable if we talked about “faith traditions” and passing on the symbols of what your faith is—the traditions. It seems to me if we replaced the term “faith” with “traditions” it would work just fine, and I could probably process it more easily. Faith is very personal, so for a person to take on another’s faith seems unlikely, because every person has his or her own context.

Traditions run the gamut. It’s not just faith traditions: It’s family traditions. It’s holiday traditions. It’s “the way we live” traditions. Young people, it seems to me, look around and say: “This is how life is.” We’ve often discussed the difference between being born into a faith community and changing my faith community, my faith traditions. They are radically different.

David: To me, faith is something innate in everyone. If there is a legitimate purpose for any religion, it seems to me it is simply to awaken the faith that’s already there—it is not to pass on some external faith. I agree that it is personal and unique to the individual. Religion may certainly pass on religious traditions that are designed to awaken faith.

Reinhard: When we pass faith on to the next generation we don’t talk about it in terms of the stages of faith. I think passing on faith is teaching about God, mixed with tradition. Moses taught the Israelites, when they came out of Egypt, that whether resting or walking they should talk about the commandments of God and about their relationship with God. I think this is part of the faith, which has a general, broad meaning,

We’re talking here about passing on the lessons to love God and do His commandments. I think that’s the key. We’re not talking about our personal faith, the faith maybe God gave us. But the key here is teaching our next generation to love God. I think it’s important for people who grow up in the Christian faith. I think all faiths share the principle of teaching about God in order to pass on faith to the next generation.

Jeff: I think we all agree with the concept of personal faith versus tradition or cultural faith. My parents were both persons of tremendous faith. My grandfather, to me, was somebody of tremendous faith. But yet, I’m not sure I can identify the personal level of faith in any of them. I don’t think there’s any way for us to know that.

I think the goal or the hope of any religion or any combination of religious culture or symbolism or tradition is, ideally, to set up one’s personal faith in some manner. I think the disconnect that all of us deal with (myself included) is that we don’t even know what our own level of faith is. It’s not tangible, it’s not visible. It is a crux of the struggles in the human relationship with the divine.

Donald: My mother asks if someone is “in the church,” not what their religion is. She doesn’t ask about their faith. She sees the identity of being in a tradition as symbolic of their personal faith. Her faith is strong and very deeply rooted in Adventism, though she was not born into it.

Jeff: But by what measure do we say her faith is strong? I would point to my grandfather as somebody of great faith, but by what measure am I saying that?

Donald: It’s even more complex, because the traditions of our church are changing. Older people are stuck in the faith tradition of their church as it was in the 1950s or 1940s. When the church starts shifting, it imposes a real dilemma.

Jeff: Even if we use the biblical narrative, and we point to the people of faith in the Bible, our traditions are totally different from theirs. And yet we hold them up as role models for a level of faith that we should aspire to—but what level is that?

Donald: It seems there are some pillars that society latches on to. You latch on somewhere in your childhood or adolescence or young adulthood, and say: “This is the way the world should be.” But then it changes on you! It’s a matter of the context in which you’ve come to understand your faith journey.

David: The notion of a faith journey, to me, is problematic. I argue that faith is binary. It’s either on or off. I think it’s always there—it’s innate, but it may sometimes need to be awakened if it’s in the off state. So I don’t think there’s a journey involved at all in faith. I could see a journey within the faith traditions whereby you can reach higher levels within the church organization, from parish priest to Pope, if you’re smart enough. That’s a religious journey, not a faith journey.

Jeff: Couldn’t you consider a faith journey a discovery of self awareness? Understanding that you come to have your own relationship to faith, to divinity, to your own place within the cosmos?

David: That’s a good point. I would accept that. But I still think it is an innate, internal, personal, journey. Church and religion may or may not play a part in that development. But it doesn’t have to, in my opinion.

Jeff: I don’t think it has to. All religion in some way purports to be the way, or the method or at least presents some sort of picture or context with which to try to identify.

Donald: We make judgments on whether someone’s faith is on or off on the basis of looking at the context of what we think it represents. “Are they going to church? Are they doing the right thing? Are they being good? Are they following the value system?” We’ve wrapped so many things into that—politics, patriotism, faith, church—all into one and boy, don’t mess with it!

Jeff: When we talk about it in the context of passing on the tradition or the faith, it’s interesting to me (with a daughter now in college, a son in high school, a son in elementary school) how there’s something deeply desirable, at least in my mind, in having them accept or somewhat follow in my culture, in my tradition, in my church. Even if we extend beyond the immediate family to the church family we grow up with, it applies to people with whom we have had a shared cultural and religious experience, I find it very troubling when one of them seems no longer to be fitting or accepting or living within the prescribed tradition or culture as we at one time agreed upon—or at least I thought we did.

Yet it doesn’t bother me one bit to have friends and colleagues who didn’t grow up in my tradition. I have many friends who are not Seventh Day Adventists but are great people, good people. Even so, it really troubles me when people who were within my tradition and with whom I identify in that context, leave it.

Carolyn: I wonder if it has to do with our own pride. Because once you get into personal faith, this is something that you hold dear, something that’s really meaningful to you, that has been passed down to you. For some reason you studied it, got it from the Bible, got it from your parents. And then, when you pass it to your children, or to someone, there is an assumption, at a certain age, that they’re going to continue with the same values or traditions as you.

But they have their own values and traditions, and the core of belief in a supreme being is something that they have to figure out in their own way and in their own traditions. But we sometimes take offense at that. We feel hurt when they do not have the same values that we did back in the 50s and 60s.

Donald: How do we think that it’s even possible? I have no idea what the 20s were like, I have a little bit of an idea of what the 50s and the 60s were like—that’s my context! And I’m watching the next couple of generations and wondering where they come from! But why would we even think that somebody born in 1990 would look at the world—all aspects of it, including faith—and come to the same conclusions we came to? The context has changed. We’re telling them to go back to the 50s or 60s, or whatever it is. There are people I admire and listen carefully to. So are they of my generation? No, not all of them. So you have to really, it seems, honor a person before you’ll follow their tradition.

Michael, what do you think in terms of one generation to another? Certainly we were not raised in the same decade. Does it play a significant role in terms of when you were born in the context of how you come to understand your faith?

Michael: It seems like this is the case, especially right now with things seeming to be moving differently. Maybe that’s happened in other generations but, for this generation, things that were not okay for previous generations seem to be commonplace in this generation: Gay marriage, sex change,… all of these seem to be fine, there is no judgment, there is no issue with it, there is no looking differently at it. I’m from the generation that seems to easily accept these things. But I’m also from a different culture—one which is probably stuck in your generation, if not an even earlier generation!

Don: Is the passing on of faith something which is intentional, or is it simply something which is passive?

Carolyn: From a mother’s perspective, it is very intentional. We sing the right songs, we say the right words to a babe in arms. And to me it was very intentional. I wanted my children to have the confidence that God gave me, the kind of faith that he gave me.

David: I think that young people particularly are going to need more faith because they’re going to confront massive changes in their life. It’s one thing to be born in a century in which really nothing changes—you’re brought up in a religious tradition and nothing much changes. By the time you die, you’ve passed on that same tradition to your children. The world was stable.

But not any more, and the younger you are the less stable the world will be going forward, because these changes are accelerating. It has enormous implications, certainly for religion. But I don’t think it will affect fundamentally that innate faith in a divine being, something to account for the creation of everything. But I don’t know that religions are ready for the challenge that’s already started to hit them.

Donald: It was much easier to keep things on the farm when we were on the farm. But now we’re not on the farm anymore. For 40 years I’ve worked in a university setting so I’ve seen a lot of kids in my life. Young people now will describe themselves as being spiritual, but not churchgoers. They have kind of left religion, but they think they’re deeply spiritual. Are young people in the Muslim community now not following the traditions but saying that they are still of the faith? Or have Muslims been able to hang on to their traditions more so than what it appears is happening in America?

Ahmed: Why would some people later on in life,, when they dive deeply and question their religion, end up changing their faith?

David: We’ve discussed that question a lot in this class in connection with the “faith journey,” that progression through various stages of faith. One of them is the stage of doubting what you have believed so far. People who get into that stage three may end up changing their religion, but I would argue they don’t change their faith, which must be “on.”

Jeff: Isn’t doubt the opposite of binary faith?

David: No, I don’t think doubt is the opposite of faith at all.

Jeff: Isn’t it the opposite of your concept of binary faith being on or off? Isn’t the definition of doubt that you’re unsure?

David: That is the definition of doubt. I agree.

Jeff: And so in your mind, one doesn’t doubt faith?

David: People—usually of no faith—can doubt, or even deny the validity of, the very concept of faith.

Donald: I am working on an electrical panel. I’m not an electrician, but I’m handling wires as thick as my thumb! I know that if I touch them, I’m a loser. I don’t doubt that electricity is coming into the panel. What I doubt is whether I’m making the right decisions in order to be off or on. Does that help?

Jeff: Maybe. I’m trying to wrap my head around the concept that everybody has faith and it’s a matter of whether it’s on or off, and then applying that to my own experience. I don’t know that my faith has ever been off, but I’ve certainly looked at it sometimes and wondered “Is it on?” Or “Is this really true?” To me, if it’s off, its off. There’s no doubt. If you don’t believe you don’t doubt. If you fully believe, then it’s on. But I would posit that 99.9% of the human race is somewhere in between those two poles.

Donald: I always believe that there’s a God. That would be on. Whether I’m accessing God is maybe where doubt creeps in. I don’t think I doubt it. I believe that there’s a God. But whether I have it on all the time is the problem.

Jeff: That may be your experience or even mine, but there’s plenty of people who question whether there is a God and would say: “I don’t know.” An agnostic is one who doesn’t say there is or isn’t a god, which doesn’t fit with my understanding of what David’s proposing with an on/off switch for faith.

David: If you’re in stage two, your faith is on. If you’re in stage four, your faith is on. If you’re in stage three, the stage of doubt, then you’re in a quantum state. It is both on and off, like the life of Schroedinger’s cat.

Adaure: Personally, I can say it was never a matter of whether my faith was on or off. But what it felt like was a disconnect between my personal faith, my personal idea of God, and the traditional ways of expressing faith at that time. That was really the driving factor for me in trying to find a faith tradition, a way that connected with the way I saw God and the way I felt God saw me.

Donald: That’s a very good point. Religion is the way you express your faith. And those are traditions. And then we start measuring those traditions. And that’s why we’re real comfortable in stage two faith. You do it this way, you don’t do it that way. It’s all about rules. And we can measure compliance very easily. It’s kind of like true or false. You got it right or you didn’t get it right. The essays are a lot more complicated.

Don: Next week we’ll continue to discuss the faith of Moses. I want to also explore our role in faith. Why, if you have great faith in God, do you have to hide your baby from the executioner? Why should I have to go to the duplicity of putting the sister there to say she can find some random soul to help take care of the baby? It’s a question of what does God expect me to do with my faith, and does faith actually have this magical quality that can protect me, if I have enough of it, even from from evil?

Donald: I think those of us raised in the Adventist tradition would agree that we have taken great pride in being a “peculiar” people. Is that equivalent to saying: “I’ve got to hide the baby, I’ve got to do something different, that’s pretty radical, so people will recognize that I have a greater faith than the rest of the community.”

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