Sometimes I wonder if we have romanticized the idea of the wilderness, as though the wilderness was a place where things were more real, truer, more natural than what we experience day-to-day.
We seek out wilderness by taking camping trips, or going for a hike. We long for it as some kind of respite from our digitally-saturated lives. We talk about experiencing God there. We count down the days until we can go out into the wilderness. And, we have a fascination with things that are wild.
I don’t know if it is because we live such routine-oriented lives, or if we feel stuck in the rhythms of our schedules, but wild has become a state we hope to reclaim, something to be sought after. It’s the modifier many companies choose. It is a descriptor that graces trendy book covers. But, for the people of Israel, the wilderness was a reminder of death.
A time of longing, of unfulfilled promises, of seemingly never-ending struggle. An entire generation died there, never having reached the promised land.
The wilderness was where Jesus was tempted for forty days.
The wilderness is where Moses died, never entering the land with the people who had grumbled and complained against him.
The wilderness is not a getaway; it is a threshing floor.
The wilderness is not a vacation; it is a place of sifting.
Yes, things bloom in the wilderness when there is enough rain and the right conditions are present.
Yes, life is possible even in the most arid of places.
But, those arid places are also places of destruction, of desolation, and of longing that seems to never end.
The wilderness is a place where we cry out, “How long, O Lord?” We strain our ears to hear God’s answer, and we can’t even detect the still small voice. We squint our eyes in the intense sunlight and hope to make out an oasis in the distance. We wander, and wander, and wander.
Haven’t we passed this place before?
Are we traveling in circles?
The wilderness isn’t a place we choose to go, but it is a place we often find ourselves. We strain our eyes and our ears to see God, and find nothing.
Yet, just like Hagar encountered the angel of the Lord by a spring of water, we, too, might come away from the wilderness amazed that somehow, in the place of death, we saw the Lord and lived.