Last year I had a goal to read the Bible from start to finish, five pages a day every day for a year, but I got stuck in Deuteronomy. Moses’s sermon to the people of Israel before they enter the Promised Land is long and not particularly hopeful. But then Moses had a lot of information to depart, and the Israelites had proven themselves to be slow learners.
In Sunday’s Old Testament reading, the Israelites demand to be rescued from their suffering when they run out of water in the desert. They tell Moses they would prefer slavery in Egypt for themselves and their children to the unknown fate that awaits them in the wilderness.
As modern people of faith, I suspect we have more in common with the ancient Israelites than we want to admit. When things are going well, we take God for granted. Perhaps we secretly believe our good fortune is due to our hard work and good character. And when things go wrong, we are indignant or angry with God. We wonder how God could abandon us. Perhaps we even try to do for ourselves or others what we want Got to do—to fix , rescue, and save.
I have caught myself, like the Israelites, wishing for the path where I know what comes next, even when it isn’t life-giving. I have wanted to be rescued, to be relieved of suffering.
The Bible translation I began reading last fall was The Message by the late pastor and scholar Eugene Peterson. In his introduction to The Message, he writes this:
I return to this passage often because it reminds me of the true reality of the world. It reminds me that I don’t have to save myself or anyone else. God has done that—is doing that daily in ways I may not perceive, but in ways that ultimately lead to grace and mercy, sacrifice and love, freedom and joy.
While I understand and share a deep desire to be rescued from suffering, I no longer make that my prayer. I pray instead for tangible signs of God’s presence, especially during times when I am helpless and feel lost in a wilderness. I take comfort that we live in a God-saved world.