Pharaoh’s Perspective on Suffering
by Jacob Hudgins
Almost all the plagues play out in the same pattern. Pharaoh, tormented by God’s wrath, calls Moses and begs him to take away the trouble. “I have sinned against the Lord your God, and against you. Now therefore, forgive my sin, please, only this once, and plead with the Lord your God only to remove this death from me”(Ex 10:16-17). Please make it stop! Sometimes Pharaoh will promise big changes. He will let the people go, as long as the plagues stop! Yet, when the plagues go away, Pharaoh returns to his stubbornness. “But when Pharaoh saw that the rain and the hail and the thunder had ceased, he sinned yet again and hardened his heart, he and his servants. So the heart of Pharaoh was hardened, and he did not let the people of Israel go”(Ex 9:34-35). When the trouble was over, Pharaoh went back to his old ways.
It is alarming how similar Pharaoh’s perspective on suffering is to ours on many occasions. When suffering comes, we suddenly become very spiritual. We cry out to God, usually with only one request: Make it stop! Please! Perhaps we, like Pharaoh, even enlist the help of others who have a connection with God to plead with us. Please tell God to make it stop! Sometimes in such moments we make promises to God: If you make it stop, I’ll do better about x or y. Yet our only concern is with ending the trouble and getting back to “normal.” When the dust settles, we return to our old ways, none the wiser. Far too often, we suffer according to the Pharaoh model.
The Bible is clear that God allows difficulties in order to shape our character (James 1:2-4, 1 Pet 1:6-7, Rom 5:3-5, Heb 12:5-11, 2 Cor 12:7-10). Perhaps we should hesitate before praying for God to “make it stop.” A superior prayer would be “God, help me to fulfill your purposes and glorify you through this suffering.”
If changes are needed, we should begin making them as soon as we realize them. We can do better than the childish bargaining Pharaoh tried to do with God, promising future obedience in exchange for present help.
But most of all, we cannot afford to emerge from suffering unchanged, distant from God, ready to return to “normal.” Perhaps the very reason for our suffering is to drive us back to God, since His “power is made perfect in weakness”(2 Cor 12:9).
Hard times will come. Let’s do better than Pharaoh!