Desert Wanderer

This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon:  “Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce.  Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease.  Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.”  Yes, this is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says: “Do not let the prophets and diviners among you deceive you. Do not listen to the dreams you encourage them to have.  They are prophesying lies to you in my name. I have not sent them,” declares the Lord.

This is what the Lord says: “When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and fulfill my good promise to bring you back to this place.  Jer. 29:4-10

When winter descends upon Atlanta, Georgia, the lowest the temperature usually ever gets is in the teens.  No matter how mild that may seem to folks in Minnesota or other parts of the country, for me the walk from building to car tempts me to give it all up and tell whoever is with me, “Go on, save yourself, I can’t make it.”  My capacity for “desert wandering” is so minimal it can hardly be called a capacity at all.

In the past months I have had a growing disillusionment with Christianity.  My doubt that the God of the Bible even exists has been real and unavoidable.  It has felt as if only by theological gymnastics could I spin His silence into something reasonable that accommodated His existence.  Preachers urge congregations to call out to Him, to ask Him, to wrestle with Him.  As a believer, trust is the name of the game.  If something good happens, we call it a gift from God.  If something disappointing happens, we trust it is part of a beautiful plan that will make sense one day, or One Day.  But for how long can I cry out without answer and keep believing He is there and caring for me?

When the people saw that Moses was so long in coming down from the mountain, they gathered around Aaron and said, “Come, make us gods who will go before us. As for this fellow Moses who brought us up out of Egypt, we don’t know what has happened to him.” Ex. 32:1

“As for this fellow Moses”…hahahaha!  Besides the humor of that translation, I totally get it.  I am right with that crowd saying this is ridiculous!  If that fellow isn’t going to respond to us, lets find a fellow who can get something going because if there is one thing we all need, its to get this show going!

“Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!”  Psalm 46:10

Israel had been kidnapped and taken into Babylon, stripped of all their possessions, power, and many of their people who had been killed in the process.  Babylon was “blessed” in the process in terms of increasing in number and wealth and power while Israel would appear to be cursed.  What must that have felt like, to believe in God as they walked through that desert over a thousand miles to their ultimate destination in slavery?  Where are you God?

Then there they are in this land that is not their home.  Where are you God?

And what He finally tells them is wait 70 years!  70 years!!!!  70 minutes left in a car trip feels like forever – for ev er.

The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. 2 Peter 3:9

Repentance!? Blistered, ex-haus-ted, sunburned, dehydrated, emotionally empty or boiling over…repent?  Abandoned, forsaken, orphaned, rejected, thrown away, abused…repent?

Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.  And after fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry.  And the tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.”  But he answered, “It is written,

“‘Man shall not live by bread alone,
    but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”  Matt. 4:1-4

The Spirit led Jesus into the wilderness.  Jeremiah told Israel that it was God who had carried them into exile.  It did not “happen” to them.  They were not rejected, abandoned or otherwise victims of evil but were carried, by God.  Unlike Israel and most certainly unlike me, Jesus did not abandon His Father or assume the silence to be indication of things going all wrong.  He understood that ever since the Garden, the only path to restoration would include suffering.   Just as a fever must burn off the germs, chemotherapy must attack the cancer, and silver must be refined in burning fire, so would the creation be recreated with the pain often required for the healing process.  Like Eustace in Voyage of the Dawn Treader, who was so enticed by the dragon’s gold that he became an enslaved dragon himself only to be freed by Aslan’s painful tearing away of the dragon layers that encased him, so we endure the “smarting pain” for the pleasure of being made whole again.

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.  For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now.  And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees?  But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. Rom. 8:18-25

Perhaps repentance can begin with confessing that I somehow should not be expected to “carry my cross” but rather am entitled to my will being done in all things, or else.  It is not as a conqueror that Jesus invites me into ministry where He has placed me but, like He did Himself, as a servant without a home.  Perhaps my feelings of abandonment aren’t so original after all nor unusual for the story He is writing, the story that ends with all things made new.

He was despised and rejected by men;
    a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief;
and as one from whom men hide their faces
    he was despised, and we esteemed him not.

Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him;
    he has put him to grief;
when his soul makes an offering for guilt,
    he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days;
the will of the Lord shall prosper in his hand.  Is. 53:3,10