Politicians, sociologists, and marketing executives all know this fact: We’re taught to live by scripts—stories we are fed that seek to prescribe the truth about our lives. For example, a global telecommunications company has engineered an entire advertising campaign around the prevailing myth that “bigger is always better.” And certain versions of the American Dream provide a prevalent narrative: To be content, we must secure a house, car, and lucrative job . . . and then secure a larger house, a shinier car, and an even more lucrative job.
Another common script insists we must exert great energy, under threat of calamity, to hold on to our life. This storyline conveys that it’s necessary to secure our own happiness and vigilantly protect our well-being against anyone we view as a threat. We fear those of a different ethnicity, political persuasion, or socioeconomic status, eyeing them with suspicion instead of moving toward them in love. How much of the violence in our midst erupts because we operate out of fear and the script of self-preservation?
READ Exodus 1:9-10, 17
This false script has been with us for millennia, and it made an appearance in Exodus 1 when Egypt’s Pharaoh incited his people with threats of insecurity and catastrophe. “Behold the people of the sons of Israel are more and mightier than we,” he said, stoking the fires. “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” (Ex. 1:9-10).
How much of the violence in our midst erupts because we operate out of fear and the script of self-preservation?
Disaster looms, Pharaoh insisted. Our way of life is in danger. We’ve got to strike first and protect what is ours. While there may have been some truth to his anxiety about Egypt’s slave labor growing too powerful for the overseers to control, it seems he was exaggerating the danger. The script he was following says everyone’s a threat and the primary objective is to clutch our power or resources. He obviously realized nothing garners support for an empire-building agenda like a little dose of mass hysteria.
So he concocted a sadistic plan to have the Hebrew midwives kill the male Israelite babies as they emerged from the womb. When we let misleading, idolatrous scripts play too long, there’s no telling the inhumanity or evil that will surface.
But a pair of Hebrew midwives refused the order. Shiphrah and Puah “feared God, and did not do as the king of Egypt had commanded” (v. 17). Believing their life was in God’s hands rather than their own, they looked to the Lord, not to the king. Though courageous obedience would put their life in jeopardy, these two brave women flipped the script.
And history honors them as heroines—rebels against the powers of this world. The text specifically identifies Shiphrah and Puah, but it never gives even a whisper of Pharaoh’s name. Only his empty title. This unnamed ruler fades into oblivion, a casualty of the seductive script that ruled his life. However, these women and their staunch faith embolden us, millennia later, to obey God rather than the distorted stories that ask for our allegiance.
• Egypt’s leader fell prey to the flawed script that we must craft our life via our own energies—and always be wary of the threat that others will take what we need. How does this idea play out in the stories of Cain and Abel, the Tower of Babel, and Jesus’ disciples arguing over who would be the greatest? (Gen. 4:1-8, Gen. 11:1-9, Luke 22:24-27). Where else in the Bible do you find a similar theme?
• Can you detect evidence of this untrue script in your neighborhood, family, or friendships? Where are we tempted to succumb to the fear that we won’t have (or be) enough? How are we tempted to view others as a threat to our well-being?
•Contrast all this with the script Jesus embodies. How do His death on a cross (motivated by His love for the entire world) and His resurrection (which secured healing and life for the entire world) contradict the false message?
• In what ways does Philippians 2:1-11 provide a radical correction to erroneous story lines of fearful self-preservation?
• Watch the TV news with an eye for ways this false script might influence how stories are presented. Do you notice a pull to be motivated by fear toward others or a temptation to selfishly exert power?
• Pay attention to times when you sense animosity toward another person or feel threatened by the suggestion that what you have will be taken away.
• In what situations are you aware of your need to fear God rather than the false powers and scripts of this world?
• Once a week, write down a few highly publicized current events that have demanded your attention. Summarize the faulty script each story might promote. Then, write the truth God’s Word speaks into these narratives.
• Meditate daily on Philippians 2:1-11. Pick a word or phrase from this passage that moves your heart toward the countercultural story Jesus enacts. Think about this word or phrase throughout the day.
• Identify someone you’re tempted to view as a threat or competitor. Move toward him or her with humility and love.