Into the Wilderness Devotional, Day 1: The Wilderness Is Not Where We're Meant to Be
Everyone has their own experience during this pandemic season, and some may feel this more than others. But to one degree or another, we all feel that this year has become a little less cultivated, a little more inhospitable. And we’re all wondering where to find the path through this season. The good news is that there is a well-worn path: the path of the wilderness in Scripture.
Day 1: The Wilderness Is Not Where We’re Meant to Be
My wife Jenn moved here from the D.C. area, an area full of trees and forests and grass and streams. She moved to the desert, a place of cactus and rocks and blinding sun and no moisture.
Once after a desert hike she remarked, “It feels like everything out here in the desert is trying to kill me.” And I couldn’t disagree. The critters tend to have poison, the plants tend to have spikes and thorns, and even the rocks have jagged edges. While I believe the desert has its own type of beauty I sympathize with my wife looking around and thinking that deserts are not places humans are meant to live.
That’s often what being in the wilderness feels like. In fact, as we look at the theme of the wilderness in Scripture we see just how inhospitable this place is, and how very like our current situation it is.
Resources are scarce in the wilderness. God’s people in the desert after escaping Egypt say, “There’s nothing to eat you’ve brought us out here to die!” Even Jesus, spending 40 days in the wilderness, had no food there.
In our current season we have fewer resources. Some people have lost jobs or money. Just a few months ago we couldn’t even find toilet paper much less N95 masks.
Comforts are removed in the wilderness. The wilderness is not a comfortable place in Scripture. No easy shelter or rest. God’s people in the desert longed for the relative “comforts” of Egypt (despite the slavery that came with them!).
We too have had comforts removed from us. Everything from our favorite lunch spot with co-workers to perhaps our favorite gym or personal space from family.
Danger is prevalent in the wilderness. In Scriptural wildernesses there are physical dangers like heat and sun. There are human dangers like Saul hunting David or Jezebel hunting Elijah.
We ourselves live in a time when newspapers carry daily headlines of infection numbers or hospitalizations. Some of those in our church body have been very sick.
Isolation is prevalent in the wilderness. God’s people are often cut off from sources of help or relationship or allies.
In our current pandemic season we are isolated from co-workers or teachers or family or friends. We may be spending more time alone. We may find Saturdays normally full of activity are relatively empty.
What’s the point here? The wilderness hurts because we weren’t meant to live here. In the beginning creation was a garden. It was full of flourishing life, no dangers, and relational closeness. But by the end of Genesis 3 what do we read? God sent Adam “out from the garden of Eden to work the ground...he drove out the man…” and he wasn’t allowed back into the garden. Why? Because Adam and Eve sinned. Sin meant they went from the garden to the wilderness.
In the world we live in creation is broken on three levels: our relationship with God is broken leading to exile from him, our relationship to one another is broken leading to conflict and separation, and the world and creation are broken leading to hurt and sorrow.
One of our pastors works a lot with pastors in the third world. He pointed out that in some ways the church in the third world has been much more resilient to the pandemic -- responding faster with more faith and more peace. Why? Perhaps because life in the third world often already has places of danger, few comforts, and fewer resources. In this season perhaps we as Americans feel more of the brokenness of the world without the filter of American money and comfort. Our bubble has burst and now we look around to find ourselves living in the wilderness, realizing that this was always where we lived.
Here is where Scripture gives us hope: The story doesn’t end with Genesis 3. We are not left in the wilderness. When humanity is cast into the wilderness, God launches a rescue plan. He means to take his people from the wilderness back to the garden. But how?
Leviticus 16 shows us how: On the Day of Atonement ceremony you may be familiar with the goat whose blood is shed as an offering for sin. But there was a second goat that lived and the high priest would “lay both his hands on the head of the live goat, and confess over it all the iniquities of the people of Israel, and all their transgressions, and all their sins...and send it away into the wilderness” (21). Either the people must be cast into the wilderness, or a substitute can be cast out for them.
And that’s why the story of the Bible is all about Jesus. On the cross Jesus is fully cast out into the wilderness -- experiencing all the punishment and exile our sins deserve. Our sins are, in a sense, confessed over him and he is cast out for us into the wilderness. But by faith in him we can be welcomed back to the garden. We switch places: He goes into our wilderness of sin, we go into the flourishing garden of heaven.
When we feel the wildness and chaos and sharp edges of this wilderness we should think, “We’re not meant to be here...this isn’t home.” But the good news is that for those who trust in and follow Jesus, we will not live in the wilderness forever. This wilderness is only, for us, a temporary stop on the path back to the garden. God has a purpose and a plan for his people in wilderness seasons and one purpose is that we recognize that this place is not home and long for the garden.