I find myself identifying closely with the children of Israel on their 40-year trek through the wilderness. I’m not so sure that it’s the heroic and poetic stuff about being headed to the Promised Land as much as I realize I’m exactly like them!
Take, for instance, the account of Moses fashioning a brass serpent and hanging it up on a pole — simply because that’s what God told him would be the cure for the bites of the poisonous snakes that infested the area. Then, he was supposed to stand in front of all the people and tell them that all they had to do to be cured was to come and look at the serpent hanging on the cross.
Too often, I’m ready to sit in class on Sunday and wonder why the people didn’t flock to the pole. The biblical record states that many of them died because they wouldn’t look. I don’t think it records their reasons, but I’m sure that I can make some guesses:
- This is so dumb. I’m dying from a snake bite, and Moses wants me to go look at some snake on a pole? He’s totally off his rocker this time.
- If God’s going to heal me, it’s got to be a real miracle. The God of the earth and all that’s on it wouldn’t do a miracle so tiny. This stuff needs to be BIG!
- What would my friends think if they actually saw me looking at the snake? What if it didn’t work? I wouldn’t have very long left, but I’d hear about it every second until I died.
- If God really cared about us, he wouldn’t have stuck us in this desert with all of these poisonous snakes to begin with. He wants me to be grateful and go look at a snake on a pole? Nope, I’m worth more than that!
I’m sure the list could go on, but you get the idea. What I find really interesting is that they had so many reasons to believe:
- They had seen the plagues of Egypt.
- They had walked through the Red Sea on dry ground and then watched the walls of water take out Pharoh and his army.
- They had seen fire from God burn a group of people who wanted to challenge Moses’ calling to lead the people.
- They ate manna everyday.
- They had a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night that was leading the camp.
And so on and so on. If I have read the record correctly, even after some people went to view the snake and were healed, others still refused to look and died! It seems so crazy!
I am now going to be bold enough to say that the more things change, the more they stay the same — and that we are still very much like those children of Israel in the desert. We have been called to look to Christ and live. We have been commanded to invite others to come and do the same. We have been promised that, by looking to Christ, we will be healed and live forever.
Of course, in order to enjoy that healing, we have to be willing to follow Christ’s gospel in faith. We have to be willing to live by the rules He sets, and we have to believe that if the things we are seeking don’t come in this life, they will come in the next.
I’ve heard (and used) a lot of excuses:
- Religion is so dumb. It’s a crutch for the mentally weak so they can deal with life. If they need to believe that there’s some “higher power” out there helping them, too bad. I’m not that weak.
- How can you believe when you’ve never seen a miracle like the ones in the scriptures? If God is really interested in us, why won’t he do something like that for us?
- If God really loves me, why is my life so hard? Maybe there really isn’t a God, or maybe it’s just not worth it trying to do things His way.
However, when I’m honest about it, I have as many evidences of God’s reality as those ancient Israelites had:
- I have put the law of tithing to the test. While I’ve had lean times, I’ve never had to go without necessities. I’ve had people jump in and give me things on a “whim” at just the time I could really use them, and opportunities to make a little extra money here and there pop up as I need them.
- I have felt the Holy Spirit working in my heart and mind. Can I describe exactly what it feels like? Nope. No more than I could describe the taste of salt to someone who’s never tasted it. However, I know it’s different than just my intuition or a fleeting fancy. The power is far to accurate.
- I’ve been led to solutions to problems that I could have never solved on my own. It’s still work (like kicking Canaanites out of the Promised Land), but I’ve grown in the process.
- I even see it in little things like the order of nature, when so much tends to chaos.
So, do I really need to see waters part to let me pass? Do I need to have food drop down from Heaven every morning? No. The witness of the Holy Spirit is more powerful than seeing miracles.
And as far as those other things — like why people have to suffer and why life can be so tough — God has given answers. The question is whether I believe those answers or not.