The other day I came across this passage in the Bible. I am sure I have heard it or read it before, but this time it made me stop and think.
I am a Christian. I belong to a particular denomination: the Seventh-day Adventist Church. Like all churches, and any other institution where people are involved, it does some things good and many things bad, and sadly it was the bad that I saw being reflected back to me in this passage.
In this passage, Joshua, Caleb, and some other Israelite spies have just returned from scouting Canaan, and the news they relay strikes fear into the people, so the people decide to rebel. They are so scared they forget that God has brought them out of slavery, that He has won so many battles for them, that He has fed and sustained them and provided their every need. In fact, they go so far as to say, "Wouldn't it be better for us to return to Egypt?" (Numbers 14:3). In their minds, it would have been better to go back across the desert, face all those dangers again, and willingly return themselves to slavery than to push forward into the refuge that God's freedom provides.
Fast forward a few hundred years, a few progressions of theological ideas and understanding, and I still see the Children of Israel reflected among Christians, including the denomination to which I belong.
Let me explain.
My Church has, like every other religion or denomination, the belief that it is right and that we members are thus a special people, not because there is anything inherently special about us as people but rather because of the beliefs and knowledge that we have. We are supposed to share this knowledge that we have with those around us, to try and bring them into an understanding of a loving God, which is what the Israelites were chosen to do, hence the “chosen people” tag.
We also believe that we are called out of the world (John 15:19). Similarly, the Israelites were called out of Egypt, which being the most powerful nation at the time, was the center of the world.
We believe in the Advent (return) of Christ and being led into a promised land: "Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth" (Revelation 21:1), much like the Israelites did.
And like the Israelites, we are on a journey to reach that promised land, and so it disturbs me when I hear people within my denomination cry out that they want to return to the “old days” in a myopic nostalgia that things were somehow better a few decades ago. What generation has never heard the term "In my day . . . " followed by a regaling of all the things that were better when their elders were younger? Like the Children of Israel, there are people who wait at the border of the promised land, scared of what they believe awaits them. And just what is it they believe awaits them?
Equality. Justice. Mercy. Compassion.
These are the giants that scare too many within all branches of Christianity, and I say that it is this fear that will keep us wandering around the wilderness of this world for another forty years. But equality for women, justice for the oppressed, mercy for the repentant, and compassion for all are not the giants that wander the land; they are the milk and honey with which the promised land is overflowing.
In churches all over the world, people plot against female ministers and leaders, just like the Israelites did (Numbers 14:4). If they have reformative leaders and theologians who have theologically spied the promised land, then they line up to stone them just as they did Joshua and Caleb. And they do all these things while ignoring the presence of the Lord on the ministry, testimony, and calling of these people (Numbers 14:10-11).
The Israelites condemned themselves to wander the desert for 40 years because they failed to trust God to deliver them where He said He would. They condemned themselves to wander the desert because they were under the mistaken belief that they were fighting with their own abilities, not the ones God had given them. They condemned themselves to wander the desert for another 40 years because they had still not shed their beliefs, their habits, and their desires that they acquired in Egypt.
In the time we have had since Christ promised to return, have we shed our habits, desires, and beliefs? Or are we still holding on to cultural beliefs and concepts of superiority based on our gender, our race, and yes, our sexuality? Have we forgotten entrance into the promised land occurs not by our own power but through the saving grace of Jesus Christ, and as such, the obstacles we face are not ours to be afraid of? Or are we so scared that we focus on looking back to where God brought us from and cannot see the goodness in where He is leading us to?
Tabitha Purple is currently serving as a pastor in the Netherlands Union. She also blogs on www.pastorpurple.blogspot.com where she frequently discusses practical theology and life with a creative emphasis.
Photo Credit: Unsplash.com / Davide Cantelli
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