Everyday Encounter with God

Pastor Sylvia's Encounters with God in the Midst of Everyday Life


Returning to Egypt

During a bank robbery in Stockholm, Sweden in 1973, robbers held several hostages for six long days. During this time, a curious thing happened. The hostages began to show signs of sympathy for their captors. Even after the ordeal was over, one of the hostages later became good friends with one of the robbers.

Criminologists assigned to the case coined a new term, “Stockholm Syndrome.”

There has been considerable discussion surrounding the exact nature of this phenomenon. As a defense mechanism, some hostages seem to form powerful emotional attachments to their victimizers.

By way of analogy, we can see Stockholm-like symptoms in the attitudes of the Israelites during their wilderness years. Only weeks after they watched God open the Red Sea, the whole community of Israel was murmuring against Moses and Aaron when they ran out of provisions.

“If only the Lord had killed us back in Egypt,” they moaned. “There we sat around pots filled with meat and ate all the bread we wanted. But now you have brought us into this wilderness to starve us all to death.” (Exodus 16:3)

Wasn’t this the same group of people who groaned bitterly because of their slavery?  Why, instead of remembering the cruelty of Egypt—the task masters’ whips, the heavy burdens, the centuries of toil making bricks under the hot sun, the ruthless slaughter of their children— why did they only remember that the Egyptians fed them?

God brought His people out of slavery, so He could give them new hope in the land of milk and honey as He had promised. But the Hebrews continued to make decisions based on fear and lack.

We are guilty of the same lunacy as the Hebrews when it comes to our own habitual sins: drugs, alcohol, pornography, food, unhealthy relationships, and more. Our addictions are stunning examples of Stockholm Syndrome. Sometimes we’re lost and think we must turn back.  

In our sober moments, we see the ugliness of our choices for what they are, but we rush back like a dog to its vomit. In the moment of indulgence, we are blind to the shame and oppressiveness of addiction—or perhaps it’s more accurate to say that we see the shame of it, but it has become so common that it becomes less repugnant to us.

Something inside us wants to be addicted, wants slavery. Why? Because we have developed a spiritual form of Stockholm Syndrome.

An entire generation of Hebrews died in the wilderness because they did not trust God. It wasn’t that Egypt was better than the wilderness; rather, trusting the slave masters was somehow easier than trusting God. Sure, Egypt was a cruel place, but at least it was a predictable place.

As undesirable as our addictions may be, they are easier than trusting God. Even as we identified the slave master’s rod at the liquor store, the drug dealer, in front of the computer or the refrigerator, we could always find predictable rations. In the wilderness we are asked to die to our selfish demands and enter the unpredictability of following God’s Spirit.

Until we get to the Promised Land, Egypt will remain in our blood. We bear the scars from our former slave master’s whips; in times of uncertainty Stockholm Syndrome will draw us back with memories “of pots filled with meat, and bread.”

But God remains faithful. He feeds our brokenness with the manna of Christ’s broken body. Our cure is found in knowing that what God offers-- even in the unpredictability of following Him-- is far better than the false promises of addiction and slavery.