We don’t really believe in a God of hope. If we did, we would rejoice in dead ends. No, my observation is that we really believe in the God of stoic perseverance. We believe in that inner resolve of the human spirit that shouts at the dark, “I will not go quietly. I will fight. I will prevail. I will never give up.” Of course, all that emotional rhetoric is very inspirational, until you come to a complete dead end.
We are prisoners of the Greek view of life. Human achievement. Victory against impossible odds. The Greek mythic heroes who fought the Fates. When we approach dead ends, we do everything possible to find our own way out. Denial is the usual beginning. “Oh, it’s not really that bad. We’ll make it.” Followed by anger. “Why did this happen to me?” Followed by remorse. “I must have done something to deserve this.” Followed by resignation. “It’s too late for me now.” Everything but rejoicing. Anything but contentment.
Why are we like this? Why do we struggle and strive and squirm and squeal to change the circumstances of our lives? Why don’t we see what dead ends really are – carefully crafted but disguised blessing of confrontation with the divine.
Don’t get me wrong. I am not suggesting a passive, compliant posture toward living, sitting quietly on the side waiting for life to take care of me. Life is work. Work is sacred. God intended it that way. If I chose to do nothing, I will receive the reward of nothing. Dead ends that come as a result of my own laziness or disobedience are not God’s intention, although the results of my foolishness can certainly be woven into His plans. No, I’m talking about the real dead ends. The blindside hits. The disasters of life that seem to have no reasonable explanation.
My close friend was healthy, vibrant, joyful and a fine example of a Christian. I stood by her bedside as the cancer overcame her body. She left behind so many who were transformed by her smile. No one saw it coming at all. One day, wonderful. The next day (or so it seemed), passing through the door marked “No re-entry”.
My wife is driving home. She stops at the intersection. There are no other cars. As she pulls out to cross, two tons of flying metal obliterates the passenger side of her car. The van ran the stop sign at 45 miles an hour. She is instantly covered in glass and shrapnel. She never saw it coming. She’s alive but the agonizing recovery has just begun.
The children chase a can along the side of the road. Kicks and shouts and laughter. It is a brief respite in the war-torn village. They reach the end of the street just in time for the car bomb to explode in front of the police station. Parents sifting the dirt looking for anything for comfort, hoping not to find it.
Death is the final dead end. But there are plenty of others in this fallen world. Our Twelve Step friends call it “hitting bottom”. It doesn’t matter what the addiction. They all push us toward the dead end. I suspect that no one really understands life until the journey reaches a large yellow sign saying “Dead End”. It’s not that life is morbid. It’s rather that life cannot be clearly seen for what it is if we can only look at it through Miller Genuine Draft commercials.
The biggest problem is not that life’s aim is to put us in the pit with Joseph. The biggest problem is that we do everything possible to pretend it won’t happen. I suspect that we feed this delusion because if we faced the pit, we would discover how powerless we are. So we drive ourselves toward the clutter of the busy in order not to hear the silence of the damned.
But what if we’re wrong? What if it is God’s intention to bring us to the dead end? What if the dead end is the place where we can encounter blessing and God is interested in blessing us so He just keeps trying to get us to see where we really are? What if all the hype and the activity and the success images and the power games only serve to keep us from really finding God? What if God is standing in the wilderness, waiting at the dead end, while we run to the concrete cities for protection from ourselves?
The wilderness is a very important piece of geography in the Bible. We think of it as the place of the temptations. That makes it Jesus’ problem; one which he, being God, overcame. But if we think of the wilderness only in mythical terms as some battleground between Satan and the Christ, we have robbed ourselves of a great truth. The wilderness is not the territory of Satan’s evil empire. The wilderness is God’s home.
The Spirit drove Jesus into the wilderness. The Spirit took Jesus to the place where God could be found to offer all the sustenance Jesus needed before Satan arrived at God’s doorstep. The wilderness is the place of refuge, not of battle. Why? Because the wilderness is the place where I must confront my powerlessness.
When Israel left Egypt, God kept them in the wilderness for forty years. They could have marched to Canaan in a few weeks. There were much shorter routes. But they were not ready to possess the Promised Land. They had slave mentalities. God needed to reconstruct their thinking. And He did that by showing them what it is like to live in His house.
Daily bread from the hand of God. No planting. No harvesting. No storage barns. Living water from rocks. No wells. No cisterns. No canteens. Victory over enemies. But no fortresses, no shock troops, no military prowess. What was it like living in God’s house? It was complete powerlessness under the authority and reign of the Lord of Hosts. It was learning the truth of “Be anxious for nothing”. For forty years God provided what life needed. Food, shelter and security. An entire generation’s worth of daily lessons. It still wasn’t enough.
Some of them understood. Most didn’t. They were unable to be completely dependent on God. Any attempt to make do for themselves on their own power just brought them back to reality – face to face with the wilderness, the place where only God is in charge. The story has been the same from the beginning. Adam, a dependent steward of the garden. Abraham, a dependent traveler. Jacob, dependence learned in brokenness. Joseph, dependence forged in prison. Elijah, David, Daniel. Over and over, God engineers wilderness encounters in order to bring us to the reality of dependence.
We buy Hummers. And life insurance (just what are we insuring, have you ever asked?) Portfolio management. Retirement accounts. Security systems. We don’t want to live in the wilderness.
No wonder we can’t find God.