I’m always reminded that the route to the Promised Land led through wilderness territory. The journey begins with Moses who in meeting God in a burning bush is told, “I have seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt, and have heard their cry because of their taskmasters; I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians, and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey.” Exodus 3:7-8
The idea of a Promised Land after years of slavery, must have appealed to the oppressed Israelites living in Egypt. What they hadn’t counted on was the path to the Promised land, would take them into a place where water was scarce and food more scarce. I’m sure the Israelites would have liked to bypass that time . . . and yet it was in the wilderness that they were shaped and formed as God’s people. Wandering through the wilderness they discovered God would care for their needs on a daily basis. In the wilderness the people learned to trust God with their future. And it was there that the Israelites learned obedience to the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. No one would accuse the Israelites of being quick learners though. Their wanderings take them far afield of where God wants their hearts to be. Years spent in the wilderness are far longer than God intended.
Which in some ways gives me hope. When I read the newspapers, I can get pretty discouraged about this world. Whether it’s Martin Luther King Jr.’s “long arc of the moral universe” bending “towards justice,” or Isaiah’s words of hope that one day “They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain, “(Isaiah 11:9) we’ve been given words of promise that one day God will set right what is wrong in our world. Today the headlines scream of beheadings, and corruption in high places. They speak of little boys who find guns in purses and shoot their parents, measles outbreaks touching a new generation, violence in the middle east, catastrophic effects of global warming and a host of problems in our neighborhoods.
The Israelites found their way through the wilderness, when they started to listen to God and act on what they heard. We also are being led. Day by day God’s tugs at our hearts to take a turn toward mercy, kindness, goodness, sacrifice and compassion. Other voices would have us lean into resentment, prejudice, selfishness or vengeance. Still others would tell us not to care that it doesn’t matter.
Lovers of God soon learn that all of this matters. God cares what we do with our lives and how we live in our relationships, not only as individuals, but as a nation. God has this dream that one day there will be peace on earth and God’s will shall be done here, even as God’s will is done in heaven. God always uses individuals to accomplish what God intends. From Moses who led slaves in Egypt to freedom, to Mother Theresa feeding the hungry in the slums of Calcutta, there have been those who said “yes.” God still pulls at our hearts and asks us to follow to the unique places where we can best be a part of bringing healing to this world. The way out of the wilderness is in saying “yes” to where and how God leads.