Into the Wilderness

Who is God?
a)  Whoever I want him to be
b) An impersonal force in the universe
c) The personal God revealed in the Bible

Many people think that the the correct answer to the above question is A.   Or  B.   Or C.
Or D, E, F if those choices are also available.   Any understanding of God is acceptable; there is no wrong image of Him.  It is the spiritual equivalent of New Games or, as one writer calls them,  “‘Pointless Games’ because the score doesn’t matter and the only reason to play is for the fun of it.”

While this philosophy may work for New Games, is it a good foundation on which to rest our faith?  Our religious motto could be:  “Spiritual pursuits.  Truth doesn’t matter; believe for the contentment it brings.”  Adherents of this philosophy say, “I like to keep my options open.  If this religion doesn’t work out, I can look around for something else.”

I know we are a consumer society, but come on…. shopping around for the kind of god we want?  Or is it more like going to a machine shop and manufacturing a god we want? But if we can make a god, doesn’t that make us, well, kind of like God?  Do we really want a god who is created out of our desires?

With this laissez-faire approach to religion, it is not surprising that misconceptions about God abound.  Many people find it difficult to conceive of God as someone who would allow hard times into their lives.  Indeed, they flat out reject that notion.  “My God isn’t like that.  He doesn’t want me to suffer.”  Their image of God is based on what they want Him to be, not what He has revealed about Himself.

For those of us in the Judeo-Christian tradition, we simply cannot fabricate our own image of God.  We are made in His image; He is not made in ours.  The primary source of our knowledge of God and His interactions with mankind is the Bible, and it is clear from even a casual reading of the Scriptures that God’s people are not exempt from problems. In fact, God actually orchestrates some of the dilemmas in which we find ourselves.

In the Old Testament the Israelites found themselves in an ongoing cycle of good times/bad times.  It went something like this:  As a nation they are living the way God wants them to live and so God blesses them.  Life is good.  They gradually drift away from God and begin to fall into the life styles of the surrounding pagan nations.  Not responding to wake-up calls from the prophets,  they eventually find themselves defeated by an enemy who is unrestrained by God.  They repent and turn back to Him.  He delivers them from their enemy, and once again they find themselves the recipients of God’s blessings.

Forty years the Israelites wandered out in the wilderness learning the lesson of obedience to God.  I know forty years sounds like a real long time to learn a lesson, but I don’t want to be too hard on them. I am at an age where I can look back forty years and see that I am still struggling to learn lessons that were set before me a long time ago.  The Isrealites weren’t the only slow learners!

Sometimes God has lessons for us that can be learned only as we go through the dark tunnel of hard times.  We can find ourselves in situations where the tunnel is so long we can’t even see the light at the other end.  That is when we have to push ourselves to keep moving forward, even in the darkness, knowing eventually we will be back in the light.  It can be a draining business walking in the dark; we reach out our hands as we grope our way forward.  We take cautious baby steps not knowing what obstacles we will bump into.  Sometimes we are inclined to turn around and go backwards; familiar is comfortable, even if not always good. But if God has led you to the opening of the dark tunnel, do you really want to go back?  Can you trust Him that you will emerge into the light at the other end?

You may be wondering why I am so sure that God does not just allow His children to have times of suffering, but actually leads them into it.  Consider the time Jesus was tempted by Satan in the wilderness.

Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, left the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness,  where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing during those days, and at the end of them he was hungry. Luke 4:1,2ff

Did you notice how Jesus ended up in the wilderness?  He was led there by the Holy Spirit to face a tough time of testing after a grueling forty day fast.  With our modern-day sensibilities we are inclined to think that the Spirit should have led Jesus in a different direction, perhaps toward a lavish banquet hall, far away from the temptations Satan would throw in His path.  But what God wanted to do in His Son’s life could only be accomplished in the wilderness, so it was God Himself who led Jesus there.

If you find yourself in the wilderness, take heart.  Don’t be fooled into thinking that this could not possibly be a part of God’s plan for your life.  If Jesus was led into the wilderness by the Holy Spirit of God, will His brothers and sisters be exempt from similar journeys?

While some people cannot imagine that a good God would allow temptations and sorrow, I find I am most aware of God’s tender love for me when I am in the midst of pain.  The more bitter the pain, the sweeter the taste of  God’s love.  I am ever so slowly learning to praise Him no matter where I am in the wilderness, no matter how dark the tunnel.  There is nothing that could compel me to accept the myth of a god who does not allow pain; God Himself experienced pain. Can I expect anything different?

One of my favorite worship songs is Blessed be Your Name by Matt Redman.  When I sing it, I am filled with a determination to praise God no matter in what circumstances I may find myself.  I do not want a wimpy faith, one that begins to doubt God as soon as trouble darkens my doorstep.  I want to be a woman with a robust faith, one that is confident of God’s goodness to me no matter where He leads.

Blessed Be Your name
When I’m found in the desert place
Though I walk through the wilderness
Blessed Be Your name

Matt Redman

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2 thoughts on “Into the Wilderness

  1. This is one of my favorite songs also. I found it to be a major source of comfort and challenge in the days after my Dad died very unexpectedly—-“he gives and takes away, my heart will CHOOSE to say blessed be the name of the Lord!” That song continually ran through my mind, and I found God to be incredibly present to me in those very dark days. In fact, I can absolutely agree that the times I have felt closest to God, and felt my faith at its strongest is during those dark times in my life when I realized that I was not capable of making things happen as I wanted them to. When life is easy and we are feeling in control of our destiny, it is easy to praise God but not to rely on him very much either. You are so on target with this blog!

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