The Biblical character that I relate to the most is the Israelites. Okay, maybe they aren't a character per se, but I love the Israelites. They are a perfectly flawed example of humanity. Over and over, the same pattern repeats itself: God reaches out to them, they follow him for a while, they get distracted and turn away, bad stuff happens, they cry out to God, he reaches out to them again. It's so easy to shake your head and think, "Why didn't they learn their lesson the last time?" until you look at your own life and see the same pattern repeating itself over and over on a smaller scale.
I've been going through some dark years recently. Once, before, I thought I knew God's plan for my life. I thought I saw a clear path stretched out before me. Things were pretty good between me and God. Then, something happened. Or, nothing happened, rather. Plans fell apart. The path disappeared. The guiding voice fell silent.
But I thought about the Israelites. I remembered how, even when it seemed like God had abadoned them, he was always there in the wings: watching, loving, waiting. I thought about those 40 years in the desert, the Promised Land just out of reach. How it must have felt to be given a promise, and then, just before reaching it, to be turned around and sent the other way. For 40 long, desolate years.
I have often thought of these past few years as my own, personal Wilderness. It is a comfort in the times when all seems dark to think that there are still lots of bright spots in the story to come.
But I had forgotten about something. When the Israelites were in the wilderness, God was present in a way he never had been before or since. His Presence, in the form of a pillar of cloud/fire went before them. It rested above the Tabernacle, for everyone to see. He was Right There. When they got hungry, he sent them manna. When they got thirsty, water from a rock. When they got sick of manna, he sent them birds to eat.
It reminds me a bit of that Footprints poem. "Where were you when we were in the desert, God?" He was RIGHT THERE! If we only see one set of footprints, it's because he was carrying us.
Does any of this make my dark days any less dark? No, not really. In fact, in many ways, this whole thought process has made me feel worse. The Israelites only had to wander the desert for so long because they didn't trust God the first time they arrived at the Promised Land. Not only am I still in the dark, but it's my fault that I'm here! And if I can't see God at work in my life, it's my fault for being blind to his presence. In fact, in light of my last blog post, blaming myself for one more thing is probably the last thing I need to do right now.
But it's reassuring in a way, too. I already knew I was flawed. I already know how easily I can be distracted from the path I should be walking. It's nice to be reminded that God isn't going anywhere. He is always there in the wings: watching, loving, waiting.
Which brings us right back where we were before: Knowing that, on the other side of this Wilderness, God will be there. But it adds a dimension that might just be semantics, but to me, is the word of life today. It's not that God "will" be there: God "is" there. Present tense. Always. Even when I don't see him. That's why his name is "I am".