“[God’s] People first came into existence when the children of Israel were delivered from slavery in Egypt and called out into the desert to be educated in freedom, to learn how to live with no other master but God Himself.”
Thomas Merton, Seasons of Celebration
We’re in the wilderness. All our ideas of what work and school and church should be have been thrown to the winds. The political, economic, social atmosphere is in upheaval. It’s unsettling to say the very least.
We can relate to the Israelites, wandering in the desert, ripped from their regular routines and comfort. And I’m beginning to wonder if we’re more like them than we realize. Their situation was not just wandering in the wilderness. It could also be described as “released from oppression.” After being forced into hard labor for years, they were finally free. But in their freedom they spent a lot of time grumbling against Moses, pining for cucumbers and garlic, and whining, “Why did we ever leave Egypt?”
From a distance we can say, “Really? You’d rather have cucumbers and garlic in oppression than manna and freedom?” But when you’re accustomed to a stable lifestyle, knowing what each day will hold and where your food will come from, to suddenly wander in the wilderness is deeply disconcerting. When you’re accustomed to a stable lifestyle, knowing what each day will hold and where your food will come from, to suddenly wander in the wilderness is deeply disconcerting. Click To Tweet
Wilderness Is Both Freedom and Uncertainty
We’re lamenting our current uncertainty. Our work has changed, our social lives have changed, our worship has changed, our family life has changed, our economic and political future is in the balance.
But as real as the uncertainty of this wilderness is, is it possible that we’re overlooking the freedom that wilderness also offers? Is it possible that we’ve been released from oppression? Is it possible that as existing structures are dismantled we have a chance to look at their insides, we can decide if we even want them and how to rebuild them?
In 2 Corinthians 10, Paul writes:
For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.
The word he uses for strongholds in other contexts is translated “fortress” or “prison.” Strongholds are both safety and prison.
Is it possible that as the comfort of our structured life is torn down, the prisons of our strongholds also have the potential to be torn down? We lament the comfort of what felt like a fortress. Are we grieving the destruction of what felt like a fortress to us but which has been prison to others? Are we lamenting the destruction even of our own prisons? Are we grieving the destruction of what felt like a fortress to us but which has been prison to others? Are we lamenting the destruction even of our own prisons? Click To Tweet
Paul promises that the gospel has the divine power to demolish every stuck place in our imaginations which keeps us from freedom. He proclaims that the words of Christ break down every dark spell of confusion, dissension, and misunderstanding.
Are we willing to step into wilderness?
Are we willing to watch our fortresses crumble around us?
Do we really want release from the spells we’ve been under?
If it means a release from oppression for ourselves and others, can we step into freedom, scary though it may be?
If it means a release from emotional, intellectual, and spiritual prisons for ourselves and others, can we let those fortresses crumble, unsettling as that will be?
I have compassion for the Israelites, newly released from Egypt. A life of oppression is all that they’ve ever known. If we’re used to the life of Egypt, if we’ve become accustomed to our fortresses (prisons), it’s also hard for us to imagine how to live differently.
So How Do We Live Differently?
When things are smashed to pieces we grieve the loss of stability and normalcy. But as we reimagine whatever normal will be, we have choices to make we didn’t have six months ago. We’re seeing for the first time how we’ve been stuck in habits that were unhealthy, even oppressive, and we now have opportunities to imagine something better.
In my personal moments of upheaval and crisis, I’ve watched God do miracles with all that’s broken. Seasons of depression have felt like my whole life has been thrown on the floor, smashed in a million pieces. But as devastating as that is, when your life’s in a million pieces, you have new choices. As you build it back together, you can choose not to include unhealthy habits you’ve been unaware of until now. As much as we love comfort and stability, during those seasons it’s much harder for us to single what is unhealthy. But it’s much clearer when our lives feel shattered. As much as we love comfort and stability, during those seasons it’s much harder for us to single what is unhealthy. But it's much clearer when our lives feel shattered. Click To Tweet
After all of their wandering, when the Israelites are finally preparing to enter the promised land, Joshua gives them an important opportunity. As they’re reimagining their “new normal,” he reminds them of their oppression in Egypt and their wandering in the wilderness. And then he presents them with a choice before they settle into the promised land:
“Choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve…As for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.” (Josh 24:15)
We’ve lost many choices in how we work, worship, gather, go to school.
But we’ve gained many new choices.
As strongholds crumble, we are freed from old spells.
We see with new eyes the oppression to which we’ve become accustomed.
We have new freedoms.
And we have new choices.
Choose this day whom you will serve.
There is no compartmentalization of the faith, no realm, no sphere, no business, no politic in which the lordship of Christ will be excluded. We either make him Lord of all lords, or we deny him as Lord of any…[The] more I seek to surrender to Christ, the more I discover those idols to which my ‘old self’…has been desperately clinging.
Lee C. Camp, Mere Discipleship