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Monday, August 23, 2010

A longing for order

I love reading through Judges and the Books of Samuel.  There were the Israelites, moving into  a land they had heard about throughout their childhood, the place where their distant ancestors sojourned, a place whose mystique intrigued them in songs and stories and anticipated glories.  Only it wasn't quite empty and waiting, and as they fought for a place to settle, there were many pockets of other tribes of people left scattered among them. People with similar skin tones and language roots, and even outwardly similar religious ceremonies.  People with lives rather comparable in most ways to theirs.  And these people had kings.  They did not take their directions from an unseen deity attended by priests before a tent.  They had proper thrones, human faces of leadership, rules and regulations, armies and boundaries.  The Israelites wanted that too.  God had given them a lot of freedom, but by the end of Judges what should have been freedom felt more like chaos.  God was fighting their battles, but they wanted to follow a human leader into war.  So they begged God to appoint a king, so they could be like everyone else.

I have so much sympathy for the Israelites.  Because there are many days when I'd like to be a little more like everyone around me.  We've visited some amazing homes in America already, places that kind of remind me that bare cement floors and three kids in a 10 by 10 bedroom and the 4th sharing a storage closet, walls where lizards crawl freely and water drips from industrial bare pipes in the sink, are not quite as luxurious as they seem in another context, the world of mud-and-wattle homes.  Instead, here we find places with pools and pianos and framed art and spotless kitchens.  And what's more, these are families who are loving and generous and well-adjusted, with affectionate teens and bright toddlers, with world-concern and creative priorities.  For the first time in America, I think my kids are noticing it too, and at least considering what it would be like to live like this.  (I discovered that I had a sort of mental deal that I wouldn't be swayed by wealth because I'd see the spiritual emptiness that accompanies it, but what to do when visiting family after family who are materially AND spiritually blessed?).  

Being led only by God felt too risky to the Israelites, they wanted some concrete human structure to assure their future.  And they did not want to be "chosen" as separate and unique anymore, after a long exile, they just wanted to be normal. They chose limits, to get order and to fit in.  I can understand that.  Right now I'd like to NOT be always on the move, borrowing cars and clothes, hoping for things to work out, asking for help, a step behind, on the edge.  I'd like to be a bit more like everyone else.

When the Israelites asked for a king, they got one, and all the loss of freedom and distance from God that entailed.  He had asked them to be content with His presence, and to be set apart, but they did not accept His risky offer.  What was good for the nations was not necessarily right for them, but they wanted what they could see.  So I sigh, and admit that what God gives others around me He may not give me, that for us the order of a Kingdom may not be palpable until eternity.  That I'd rather have the holy wild disorder of a life of pilgrimage than the security of a settled life where my order becomes a layer of obscuring cloud between me and Reality.  Praying that I could pray for what is true to my heart without selling out my soul.  And that the toll it takes on four teens would not torpedo them, but rather strengthen them to grasp onto the Presence of a God who leads in obscure and unexpected and disruptive ways.

1 comment:

harryk said...

May we (especially me) feel the most UNRELENTING shame when we (often) make idols out of material things. Perhaps we’re like a group of dull people who are on a trip to a beautiful vacation spot - but when they see a billboard along the road with a picture of the place, they stop and fall in love with the picture, remaining by the billboard rather than continuing the journey to the real thing. God’s gifts should remind us of how generous and merciful He is and make us long to be with Him. But how often we worship the gifts rather than the Giver of all gifts and He Who gave Himself for sinners like us.