I’m listening to the book, “Behave” by Robert Sapolsky. Subtitled “the biology of humans at our best and worst”, this book looks at human behavior from as many different disciplines as possible from the socio-political to the biological to the neurochemical. I’m just starting and it’s already pushing the limit of my college-level psychology major. Already, however, I’ve found an interesting connection between it and our bible study (what did you expect from a pastor?)
In every being from a cockroach to a human, when we feel vulnerable, we attack those around us we consider weaker. From the increase in abuse cases during financial depressions to playground bullying by bullied kids, this behavior is ingrained in the biology. Lab monkeys deprived of food will lash out violently at the weaker monkeys. Even lizards will attack the weaker ones after losing a fight. We are harsher to our families after a difficult day at work, less patient with our children when fighting with our spouses, and harder on ourselves after a failure than after a victory. We have to fight consciously and continuously to overcome this drive in ourselves if we are to be Christlike.
I’ve always found the constant grumbling and attacking of the recently Exodus-ed Hebrews to be a lack of faith or a character flaw. “How could they lash out at Moses over and over again when God had made it clear that Moses was His representative and that He is all-powerful?” I wonder today if Sapolsky doesn’t give us an answer. Before I lash out at these redeemed people again, I’m pondering their emotional and societal state. They have been slaves in Egypt for 400 years without any sign of the God on whom they based their entire existence. Then suddenly with terrifying miracles, pain, and death, their God frees them, gives them the plunder of Egypt and they are on their way to a fabled home they have not truly considered for a long, long time. But now, this group of builders and servants has to fend for themselves, fight battles and wars, and obey a shepherd who keeps making bad decisions.
If ever a group should feel vulnerable, it’s these people. And what do vulnerable people do? They lash out at those closest to them, especially when their vulnerability hit a peak, like when there was no water in today’s text. I’ve done it. You’ve done it. And they did it, lashing out a Moses and Aaron, their public leaders, again and again. And so I think from now on I’ll give these folk a break and stop being so judgy about them. They were just doing what we all do, but on a national scale. And we can’t understand mistrusting our leaders, feeling vulnerable, and lashing out at them on a national scale. Can we?