In this series, I’ve been exploring the Exodus narrative as a window into the spiritual and emotional journey. In this post, I explore the second lesson learned by God’s intervention (along with Moses!) among the enslaved Israelites – get busy living! (The first lesson can be found here.) The next lesson will be explored in a post to come.
Get busy living. Sounds easy, but what if we’ve lost sight of life as it was meant to be? For some of us, slavery is soul-consuming, eroding all signs of life. We need a picture of the good life from someone else, someone who can see what we can’t see. Martin Luther King, Jr. did this in his I Have a Dream speech. For the enslaved Israelites, God had a dream, and His dream – poetically conveyed in images of a land flowing with milk and honey – awoke the hearts of His battered people. Counselors and pastors and spiritual directions, among others, are called to be soul visionaries for the helpless, as well.
You see, bondage steals away the memory of the past and the hope of a future. God’s people had lost sight of their Edenic past, and had stopped hoping for a restored Eden full of life and love. Tragically, pain and powerlessness cause us to become locked in the present. Bill and Diane came to me for marriage counseling. Married 15 years, they had been in and out of counseling for about as long. Diane cut to the chase in the first session, saying, “We’ve been through this marriage therapy business over and over again. Neither one of us have much hope left. In fact, we know very little except survival.” The depth of the present struggle had stolen any vision of life as it once was in the bliss of their honeymoon, or life as it was intended to be in its poetic beauty – “the two shall become one.” They were stuck in a hopeless present.
Sadly, people in bondage often do not and cannot envision life any differently. We get acclimated to our chains of slavery. We get used to being abused. We become habituated to food, possessions, or relationships that we put in the position of Redeemer, hoping-beyond-hope that this will make us feel better. I see it every day in the lives of ordinary people who ought to be living for more, but who are settling for less. C.S. Lewis said it well in his oft-quoted sermon in The Weight of Glory. He writes, “When infinite joy is offered us, [we are] like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in the slums because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea.”
This is where soul care can feel like warfare. Evil is committed to a sinister purpose – the destruction of dignity in God’s image-bearers. It speaks, “Surely you don’t think God will free you from this? You know this is as good as it gets. So, get used to it. The bread and water of Egypt is far better than the hunger and thirst of the wilderness.” Parts of us that have resigned to a life of survival and slavery believe this lie. We’d be much safer (or so we think) choosing the predictability of bondage than the risk of freedom. Old habits die hard.
In the first sessions, counseling can be a tiring and spiritually draining thing. I’ve watched as an abused woman chooses to let her husband off the hook simply because the disruption to her life, the questions from her church, and the blowback from her abuser would be too much. I’ve seen under-achieving men leave my office with a hunched head saying, “God might want more for someone else, but never for me. I’ll always be a loser.” It’s war, and it’s painful. And those of us doing the counseling sometimes hear the same voices: “Chuck, why are you doing counseling anyway? It doesn’t help. No one ever really changes.” War is hell.
But, Moses listened to the voice of God. And it became louder and louder until he was convinced that the smaller and more sinister voices led to further slavery, not life. Moses began to believe that life could be better, and that God might pave a desert highway back to Eden. We hear the same voice from Jesus in Luke 18 and Matthew 20, as He asks the most fundamental question that can be asked: What do you want? He has, of course, a deeper hunger and a deeper feast in mind than our smaller desires sometimes allow.
Finally, many people wonder, “Why does God’s voice sound so judgmental and life-killing, at times?” My belief is that God’s voice will never sound like this. It’s best, in these moments, to check in and see whether or not this inner voice that sounds like God might just be the lingering voice of an angry parent, a demanding coach, or a gloomy pastor. You see, God may say hard things and require bold risks, but never at the expense of your heart. God’s invitations offer life, though the path is often paved with suffering. The invitation into a wilderness journey is frightening, as it was for Sam and Frodo in Lord of the Rings. But God’s parenting always draws us up and into life, not down into slavery, though we get scraped knees and broken legs along the way. Discerning the voices may be hard, but when you begin to recognize the consistent and life-giving tone of God’s voice, the journey becomes a delight.
God comes to the Israelites not with a stern indictment (How did you get here?) or an impotent jab (If you’re getting out of this mess, you’re getting out on your own.) He comes asking, “What do you want?” And His poetic and glorious vision of desire-fulfilled is nothing but the most grand picture of the good life anyone could image.
If you believe in a world of good and evil, angels and devils, then you’ll agree that life can feel like war, at times. What particular life-killing messages are you vulnerable to? Write down some of these messages.
What are specific triggers in your life, whether internal or external, which activate these life-killing messages or sabotaging voices?
Jesus said, “My yoke is easy and my burden is light.” God’s voice offers rest, love, and compassion. Try listening in to the compassionate and loving voice of God, through Jesus. If needed, listen in to His voice in Scripture (Isa. 40; Isa. 51:1-16; Isa. 66:7-14; Jer. 31:31-34; Rev. 21-22). What is his vision for you?