January 8th, I attended my grandfather’s funeral. Papa’s funeral was really the celebration of a life well lived. As a Christian, I know this world is not home. Heaven is. Even so, many tears fell while hugs turned into soft sobs. The tears weren’t for his loss of life. No, we know he gained a brand new life the moment he went home. We cry for ourselves and the knowledge that we won’t see him here again. It’s a paradox: We’re happy he’s no longer hurting, and at the same time, we’re sad because he feels more distant from us than ever before.
Speaking of distance, to get to the funeral, I had to cross the Atlantic and 1,158 miles of Texas (round-trip). That’s a lot of travel time. Time to sit and think… and crochet. (I made two scarves while in transit.)
On my travels, I had the opportunity to visit my home church. In Bible class that Sunday morning, we talked about the journey the Israelites took from Egypt to the Promised Land. If you’ve read the account in Exodus 13, you know God purposely chose not to take His people on the most direct route. Verse 17 explains: “When Pharaoh let the people go, God did not lead them on the road through the Philistine country, though that was shorter. For God said, ‘If they face war, they might change their minds and return to Egypt.’”
God knew the hearts of the people He’d freed from Egypt. They had heard and repeated the stories of His promise to Abraham and Isaac. They knew how God had orchestrated Joseph’s life so that the entire region would be saved from a seven-year famine. But they’d also experienced many generations of silence. It’s not surprising then that they may have felt distant from God. For so long, He’d been part of a story. Suddenly, He felt real. There He was causing plagues, uprooting them from the only home they’d known, and leading them into the desert. If the journey to their new home got too hard or too scary, God knew they would give up.
The security of the known (slavery) seemed preferable to the fear of the unknown. After four centuries of living apart from Him, the Israelites doubted God at every turn, certain He would fail to provide for their needs. It took years, and a new generation of people who experienced constant reminders God’s presence (manna, water from a rock, the Tabernacle, a pillar of cloud/fire, feasts and festivals, sacrifices, recitations of the story of the exodus, to name a few) for the people to trust God to the point that they knew He was with them (Joshua 2:24).
It wasn’t until His people learned to trust Him with their lives that He led them home.
It’s easy to point fingers and find fault with the disbelieving and disloyal Israelites of Moses’ time because we have the benefit of the bigger picture. We can read the whole story and see how, from Genesis through Revelation, God worked out His plan in His perfect timing.
But what about us today? How easy it is to forget that God is real and still active in our lives today. We see the hurt and struggle of life and wonder like the Israelites who suffered under the Egyptians, “Why, God?” When we feel lost and alone, wandering in our own wilderness, it’s so easy to ask, “Where is God? Does He care?”
Our journey through this life is meant to bring us closer to God. In those moments of fear and uncertainty we must close the perceived distance between us and our heavenly Father. (See Acts 17:27 below.) We must remind ourselves constantly of His presence and reality. Not through sacrifices of animals, but songs of worship and words of prayer. Not by watching for a pillar of smoke or fire, but by reading the Bible and acknowledging His activity in our lives. Not by celebrating week-long festivals (although that could be fun) but by meeting regularly with other Christians to encourage one another and hear how God is working now.
Our journey—the ups and downs, the thrilling moments as well as the terrifying times—allows us to see God at work and to learn to trust Him with our lives so He can lead us home.
“From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us.”
~Acts 17:26-27 (NIV)