I just can’t stand it anymore. Aren’t you sick and tired of the constant accusations, lies, finger pointing and platitudes in this election? I can’t remember when it was so vitriolic and so insistent. Maybe there is a point to it all, but as far as I can see, the only purpose is power. And that raises an interesting (and perhaps ominous) theological point about living in the wilderness.
Exodus is a book about the wilderness. It begins with God’s miraculous demonstration of redemption, the removal of His chosen people from bondage in Egypt. It doesn’t take a theological degree to see that this historical event mirrors a deeper spiritual event, the day when each of us experienced God’s personal redemption from the prisons of self-sufficient bondage. God wrecks havoc on the slave masters, eventually overthrowing them with the greatest symbol of substitutionary sacrifice in the Old Testament – the Passover Lamb.
But once the people leave Egypt, their true character begins to shown itself. God marches them to the edge of the Red Sea. As Pharaoh’s army approaches, they reproach Moses, saying, “Why did you bring us to this place to die? Weren’t there enough graves in Egypt?” Had they forgotten the mighty hand of God so quickly? Unfortunately, yes. God’s mercy overrides their ungrateful lack of faith. He parts the Sea and brings them across. The physical slave masters are exterminated, but not the mental and spiritual ones, for time after time, whenever the wilderness becomes a threatening place, they complain to God, demanding that God do what they want and insisting that it is His fault that they are in such a terrible mess.
The wilderness becomes God’s schoolroom of obedience.
Now the wilderness is not a very nice place. The first fact about the wilderness is this: it is dangerous, hostile and completely unresponsive to human manipulation. That, by the way, is why we build cities. We don’t like living in the wilderness. We want to live in places where we are in control. We want water when we want it, lights when we want them, food when we feel like it, ease and comfort when we deem it appropriate. And the wilderness doesn’t give us any of that control. So, we bulldoze over the wilderness and make concrete highways, steel buildings and tile roofs. And in the process, we unlearn the fact that Man is not in control. We begin to think that life should be the way we want it to be, not the way it is under the hand of a sovereign God. We feed our self-delusional fantasy that we are self-sufficient.
Of course, a hurricane or a terrorist attack causes attitude adjustment. Suddenly the nature of evil confronts our blind assumptions about control and we are thrown into a chaotic state of recalibration. With tremendous effort, we struggle to pull the world back into conformity with our expectations. Sometimes we seem to be successful. It’s a tragic mistake.
You see, the wilderness is God’s home. When we attempt to reconstruct it in our image, we lose a lot more than a hostile environment. We lose the opportunity to trust in the sovereignty of the Creator.
The children of Israel were kept in the wilderness for forty years. During that time, they encountered God in the giving of the Law, the punishment of sin, the mercy of provision, the shelter from enemies, the healing of disease and the training in worship. The wilderness is harsh because it takes harsh reality to strip us of self-sufficiency. And without the utter loss of self-sufficiency, we will not encounter God. But when we encounter the God Who is at home in the wilderness, we discover that we are tenderly cared for, intimately loved and prized. We discover that the circumstances of our lives are irrelevant to living. We discover the if God comes first, everything else falls into place even if we are living in the wilderness.
There is one other very important element about the wilderness that changes us. The wilderness is that place where God deals with sin. The wilderness is that part of our journey where God takes us to task about sin and where God provides the solution. In the wilderness, God lets us confront our true selves. We see the standard of holiness, in all its terror and majesty, and we realize that we are not holy. Not by a long shot. When we are surrounded by the city, that human construction of false security, we are led to believe in the inevitability of human destiny. We stop depending and start defending. But when we look around (if we have the spiritual eyes to see), we discover that God is not there. What is there are all the powers found in the values of this world, all the vices turned into virtues, all the possessions turned into principles, all the rationalizations turned into rules. It is not accident that Jesus sought time in the wilderness or that the Spirit drove him into the wilderness. That’s where God’s care becomes reality.
The politics of the election should remind us that we have forgotten the wilderness. On every side, self-sufficiency, independence, power and self-determination are vaunted as the highest good of Man. These are precisely the sins that God intended to eradicate from His people in their wilderness journey.
We need a major re-location policy. We do not need better health care, stronger defense, better intelligence, tougher judges, more jobs and cheaper drugs. We need a new address. We need to remember that Christians are called to live as resident aliens in the world of the city. They are citizens of the wilderness, the place where God is completely in charge, provides daily and is worshipped as the King of kings. Christians do not belong here. Oh, we have been assigned here, that’s true. But the city is not our home. We don’t live according to the values of the city. We are held accountable to the values of the Kingdom.
Does that mean we are to abandon the “city-world” for monastic sanctuaries? No. It means that we must view living as an expression of wilderness witness in the midst of city chaos. We must live by God’s provision, not our own. We must work under God’s direction, not the company’s. We must enter in to the hurting world with a clear understanding that salt and light only work in bland and dark.
Politics are not Christian if it is not salt and light in the wilderness. The Christian is involved in the politics of God, not in the politics of power, preference and privilege. Politics of this world is an accommodation to the city’s need for cooperation and protection at the price of authority. This kind of politics ignores God’s ability and desire to act as Provider. The world system of politics demands prophetic voices, crying from the wilderness, “Make straight a pathway for your God”. Politics without prophets is a hopeless exercise in rationalizing human sufficiency. The Christian is called to be the prophet, to stand against all forms of power, privilege and preference that are not based entirely on the holiness of God. When the Christian accommodates the message to the politics of society, darkness spreads over the land.
I long for the voice of the prophet. The clarion call of God. Pray for that prophet. The city is in dire need.