In a PBS report creatively titled “The Thin Green Line”, scientists were attempting to study the ecological impact that the removal of frogs had brought about. A disease ravaged all the frogs in a forest area of Panama leaving no survivors. Among other issues incurred from this “toadal” genocide, the scientists offered some general information about the ecological footprint frogs leave. They limit algae growth and control insect populations directly. Indirectly that means cleaner water and a lowered chance of human contraction of avian malaria or dengue fever. The secretions in frog’s skin has been studied and used to help create antidepressants, anesthetics, pain killers, appetite suppressants, and Alzheimer’s medicine. Researchers have found peptides in frogs that have shown promise and potential in treating conditions from HIV to high blood pressure. (All of these facts can be found here).
I offer all of this interesting, though perhaps excessive, information to set the context for one verse in the book of Exodus. For anyone who knows the story of the plagues, and in particular how it all ends, there is a remarkable statement made during Moses’ epic negotiations with Pharaoh. Frogs were God’s second plague on the land of Egypt, functioning as a sign to the hard-hearted Pharaoh. The Bible says that when Moses lifted his staff over the rivers frogs came pouring onto the land and they proceeded to make life an amphibious nightmare for the people in Egypt. Pharaoh soon relents and asks Moses to do something about the frogs. Moses’ reply is what was incredible to me:
Moses said to Pharaoh, “Kindly tell me when I am to pray for you and for your officials and for your people, that the frogs may be removed from you and your houses and be left only in the Nile.”
Despite the end that was coming, despite the other plagues that were on their way, Moses (and by extension God) was not interested in destroying Egypt or the ecosystem therein. I find it amazing that Moses would include the qualifier, “and be left only in the Nile.” He wasn’t trying to allow disease to come to Egypt, but he did seem to be concerned with keeping life normal for the Egyptians as long as the Hebrews were allowed to go worship their God in the wilderness. As passionate as Moses was regarding the liberation of his people, he did not allow that passion to bleed into hatred for his enemies. It seems that there was no vindictiveness in Moses’ intentions. This idea reminds me of a quote that I have posted before but is worth revisiting:
The true soldier fights not because he hates what is in front of him, but because he loves what is behind him.
– GK Chesterton
I find it a great comfort that even in His judgment God is not capricious with regard to His creation. The plague represented a temporary imbalance with persuasion being the goal, had he destroyed all of the frogs in Egypt it would have equaled another imbalance with suffering being the goal. Neither would have been healthy. This is not to say that the Egyptians didn’t suffer, certainly they did, but the plagues were specific instruments for specific goals, not weapons of arbitrary destruction.
There is a beneficial way to see those who may oppose us as Christians. In a profound way we must be able to avoid victimizing ourselves when problems and trials come to us; instead we should see our oppressors through eyes of compassion. This sounds ridiculous at first, but the most powerful ten words I can think of came out of Jesus’ mouth on the Cross: “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.” It is this unwillingness to let bitterness creep into our lives that says, “leave the frogs”. In our attempts to spread the truth of Jesus we must be careful not to smugly take every ounce of dignity from those who have yet to experience a relationship with Jesus. The acidic way that some Christians have spoken of those they disagree with is much closer to being malicious than merciful. I have no problem making the statement that if you would rather see those you disagree with hauled off to live on their own island because of how they are “ruining” your life, then you have misunderstood the Christian’s purpose on earth and the Gospel itself. It was toward the lepers and prostitutes that Jesus walked, not away from them.
I encourage you today, leave the frogs. For those who have made horrible life choices and are trying to stay afloat in the wake of those decisions the last thing that they need is to be reminded that they are about to drown. In a nation so sharply divided on issues of sexuality we must be careful to provide a different voice than the two polarized sides that are shouting at each other across the picket lines. For the prisoner, the unwed mother, the out of work alcoholic, the middle class mother who just can’t seem to quit doubling up on prescriptions, and the 80 hour a week corporate executive who lays down at night and wonders how life could possibly be any different – to those and more like them who are “easy targets” for our pithy answers and easy ways out may we leave the frogs. May we not marginalize the difficulties of those we disagree with. May we refrain from acting like their problems are “curable” with one good sermon. Friends, instead of killing every frog and leaving their lives in disarray, may we step into their predicaments and problems with hands of love to help and a message of grace to sustain. Leaving the frogs means that others will have the opportunity and ability to oppress us again, but killing the frogs almost certainly dooms us to forfeiting any chance they might have to change.