I once got a wilderness survival badge in Boy Scouts, my partner and I had to cook a meal and create shelter in the wilderness for one night, we were given a match, a lb. of raw hamburger, some water, a compass and I think that was it.
It was fun and I learned a valuable lesson about the properties of sandstone in the heat of a fire, but it was hardly a survival experience ..I suppose for a 15 year old it might have had the same emotional content but to be honest we were never at risk.
As I have begun to explore the language of my current faith walk as it is echoed by others the phrase “wilderness” seems to take preeminence as the best way to describe the journey.
But I need to clarify what some of this actually looks like from my world…it is not a wilderness of faith for me, I have no doubts about God, my belief in the Holy Scriptures and Orthodox doctrine has not moved or even wiggled, my faith in God is probably as high or higher than it has ever been.
I have read and appreciated the “stages of faith” study that Kathy Escobar has graciously made available and yes I have found myself there-in but I have also extracted myself back into something more primitive that I have learned from the faith movement and the likes of Kenneth Hagin, George Mueller, and St. Patrick…my crisis is not one of belief but one of models.
I really don’t give a rip what others believe about the power of confession, holding to the word in trials, and believing God for the impossible, this is my walk and I will hold to it until I die…I have seen far to many miracles in my own life for me to have a crisis of “faith”…for me faith works, there is no doubt about that issue, if it isn’t working I am not going to fall into some dismal doubt and depression, I am going to go to the Word, see what it says and hold to it regardless of what my five senses tell me.
My crisis, my wilderness exile has been primarily about the support structure I have invested in for nearly 30 plus years…the church models, the authority models, the mechanisms of power, control and how we even approach the Word in these models has been the crisis.
It is not my first rodeo…I have been here before where I challenged those in authority and said these things ought not to be and then became anathema to the crew I was rowing with.
I was actually told by one Senior Pastor as I left the church I had been hired at (but never paid) that he felt it was his duty to follow me anywhere I went with letters warning the brothers to not fellowship with me…at 30 years old I just looked at him and had nothing to say…I had tried every possible contortion to reconcile and nothing had worked…so exile is not a new experience for me.
This time though the wilderness has chosen to haunt me…basically telling me this is where I belong…and at first I have fought the intrusion by suggesting that everyone goes through this I just need bigger spiritual meds than most people because I’m too intense.
But as I scan the horizon and take in the view I am becoming convinced that this is not a “one-off” lesson, it is a path to a city whose builder and maker is God.
One of the things I have added to my current tool kit is a new understanding of the scriptures…I have done a fair amount of heavy lifting in the last 2 years of the original languages but also some very intense academic excursions into the culture of the scriptures…it started as I was writing my book on divorce and discovered the heavy influence of the Rabbinical schools in the words and parables of Jesus…that led me to discover a load of cultural scaffolding that the Hebrews had borrowed form the surrounding civilizations…things like Pharaohs war tent being the EXACT dimensions and layout of the Tabernacle in the wilderness and this being evidenced almost 100 years BEFORE the Moses model was erected.
Discovering scholars like Ray Mayhew, or Ed Nelson people with deeper roots in academia that help me navigate a broader perspective on the Word has been a challenge, my brain has complained, but at the same time I have managed to track with modern mystics such as Ian Clayton and Justin Abrams into realms that frankly echo almost everything the academic quadrant has instructed me in.
So how does this relate to the wilderness?
Well…the thing that I am discovering is that all of our models hang upon some sort of skeletal structure, some underlying substrate that comes to us in less visible lines than our cognitive arena operates in, our very way of thinking is the product of a culture we have been groomed in and I have clearly seen that the wilderness is in fact the primary culture that God chose, God dwells in and God ordains and NOT the Greco/Roman/Western culture that we have accepted as the christian norm.
The wilderness is wild but it is precise in its definitions, because the definitions are not about form they are about function…here’s an example:
NASB: “So Jonathan rose up from the table in fierce anger”…
Hebrew: “And Jonathan rose up from the table with his nostrils flaring in anger”
In the sanitized Greek version it is possible for Jonathan to leave the table and no one really know how upset he is…you can be fiercely angry inside, which is how most of us born again folks would read it…but it is completely impossible to hide the emotional energy of someone who leaves the table so upset that his nostrils are flaring as he breathes in anger…and the Hebrew picture for this word actually looks quite a bit like the nose of a war horse.
The wilderness definition leaves nothing to guess about, it is brutal in its emotion and numbing in its transparency, but the cleaned up Greek version allows us to be polite, to be reserved and remain in control, to be “Christ-like” and non-confrontational…the wilderness view does not allow you a perspective void of judging something…it forces a decision because the wilderness will not allow for passivity.
If you remain passive in the wilderness, you will die…you are forced to keep moving, to grow and to find the next watering hole or you are buzzard food.
And this is why I am finding the wilderness is more in line with Gods nature…He wants a decision, not some kind of indifferent posturing, the desert demands action.
If we approach the wilderness as an exile from the structures we have been married to rather than a new country with a new language and a new culture, it will be impossible for us to see the glory of transformation that awaits the sojourner into the wild…because God is here.
Well isn’t God in the old structures?…of course He is…as much as we let Him be…but in the Wilderness He’s calling the shots and not us…
This balance between a dramatic raw faith-walk and a brutal open sky that demands trust go hand in hand…and with it goes a demand to see the scriptures in a new light…the wilderness demands that you listen to both the scholar and the scoffer, the scientist and the outcast because a huge part of the experience is dealing with our fears so our doubts have no power.
You can stay in a safe church, listening to the same old behavior control messages that demand submission to a model without question, you can remain in a safe environment where certain questions will never come up because the person asking the question has the wrong credentials…you can be safe or free, but not both.
There is a certain safety in not asking hard questions, feelings remain intact, the veneer of culture stays in place and everything remains predictable down to a twenty year cycle…I can say without blinking what is happening in the structures I came out of, what people are doing and what is not ever going to happen because the structure has rules to follow.
Am I suggesting that people in the traditional church model are not free?…sure…why not…I might as well since eventually that is where the logic will lead us, why hide it anymore? But I ma not saying it as a commentary on people, simply pointing out that the culture of the system cannot allow for hard questions…
But in my perspective it does not make them any less valuable, nor does it require I look down my nose in disdain, in fact, it might require that I join them at times and give them the wild honeycomb I am eating for free…how will they know whats possible if I refuse connection?
I can judge architecture without judging the architects…
The wilderness requires hard questions…what do you do with a hope that has been around for 20 years and has not materialized?
Abraham brushed past it, denied its right to take up anymore landscape and turned it into faith because he had no choice…he was looking for a city whose builder and maker was God, he lived in tents…you can’t get much more wilderness than that.
There is no more room in a nomads tent for a microwave than there was in Abraham’s world for a hope that would never come to pass, he was forced to face it, kill it and resurrect it all in one spot, the Bible says in hope AGAINST hope he believed…in other words avoiding the question became his enemy, he refused to do it and thus became the friend of God…friendship born out of absolute trust.
That’s why one of the primary tools in my bag right now is that raw faith-movement belief in Gods abiding promises, it is apparent that any man or woman who has had any impact in the world operated in this level of raw faith, Hebrews 11 is about what they accomplished with FAITH, not hope.
And for those who might wonder, no I am not wounded, I am not hurt, I realize it was a model of life that burned me and not people…I am not blaming anyone but myself here…but I am no longer tame either…I cannot be domesticated into some program because by definition I am following a Lion who is a Lamb…
And this tension between a raw faith and a transparent trust in a wild God is absolutely invigorating…