We could call the ancient Israelites rebellious—that was certainly their nature in the wilderness of the Exodus story. Every single time they couldn’t find the water they wanted or the food they needed, every single time they were afraid, i.e. when Moses stayed 40 days up on Mt. Sinai with God, every time things didn’t go their way, they rebelled. They complained. They waffled. They looked for someone, anyone, to take them back to Egypt where life was so good!
The generation of Israelites who were living when God rescued them from a brutal Pharaoh never did give up their desire to return to Egypt. No matter that God was always present to them in the wilderness. No matter that their lives were secure and they were protected from all enemies. No matter that God had rescued them from the suffering in Egypt—they wanted to go back to the past: “If only we had died by the Lord’s hand in Egypt! There we sat around pots of meat and ate all the food we wanted, but you have brought us out into this desert to starve this entire assembly to death.” [Exodus 16:4]
It was only their children and grandchildren who were able to let go of their own rebelliousness and free will—those who were born in the wilderness, always dependent on God’s care, who were able to cross the Jordan River into the Promised Land, because they had never rebelled. Even as they faced enemy after enemy in Canaan from Jericho to Shiloh they, led by Joshua and Caleb, followed God’s orders about how to tackle each enemy and successfully conquered that land.
The ancient Israelites were no more rebellious than we are. But their stories have a lot to teach us about obedience and freedom, about putting God first and leaving the past behind, about leaving slavery to the world and following God wherever he would lead us. We were all given free will, the ability to choose how we will live and whom/what we will serve. Because of our free will, God waits for us to come willingly to Him, leaving behind our rebelliousness. And to see this we need to read beneath the lines of the Exodus story, because, as the title of my book on Exodus that will be published later this year says, “Exodus is our story, too.”
Freely given free will means that we are always having to choose the world’s ways and God’s ways, we even have to choose to be taught God’s ways, because we are born and raised into the world’s ways. By the time we are adults we are deeply steeped in the ways of our family, in the ways of the culture, in the ways of the world, even in the ways of our religion. We have to choose to give God a place in our lives, even how much of a place we will give him. Even if we’ve been brought up in a church, there are still many ways to limit God’s influence in our lives.
God gave us all free will. Now it’s on us how obedient we are, how much of our lives we’ll give over to God. How much we will let God love us. A major stumbling block to God in our lives, at least in 21st century American lives, is the damaged self-image that our culture has burdened us with. I do think it has to do with free will and a child’s understanding of it: “If only I had tried harder to obey my parents, I wouldn’t be in such trouble all the time.” The child at an early age stumbles into a self-image that basically says that “I will have to make up for all that I lack, by being more ______.” For some that might mean more obedient. Others might rebel and say to themselves, “no way will I follow any rules.” Another might say to themselves, as I did, that whatever is happening “will not work out for me.” No matter what we understand of our disobedient nature, we walk away from our childhood burdened by that knowledge—that basically we are unlovable.
This core belief about ourselves becomes the driving force behind many of our choices, never believing in who we are or giving ourselves a break because we’re a human being and bound to make mistakes. This keeps us outer-referenced, dependent on the opinions of other people or maybe still rebelling against them. We are not willing to trust our own innate selves or the Indwelling Spirit of God. This dependence on others and the culture to tell us what is what is the major filter through which we view our lives and what happens to us. It is a distorted lens that needs at some point to be cleaned or discarded, even, so that we can begin to see what is actually true about us and about our lives.
God calls us to obedience; we see that as another bondage. God calls us to a partnership with Him, we prefer our own ways of doing and being in this world. God calls us to freedom; we’ve never even tasted the freedom to be who we were created to be, so we reject his call. God offers us a shoulder to lean on, but we are free and independent, or so we think; we don’t give into this need.
God chose to give us free will. And then he spends the rest of our lives inviting us to a wider, less personal view of life and our part in it. I don’t think he is surprised by any rebellion, after all he built that choice into us. And so beginning with Adams and Eve, we have at least periodically turned our backs on God’s ways. And still at every point, there is God sowing seeds, inviting us back into his arms. [Matthew 13:1ff the Parable of the Sower describes the seeds falling onto ground that ranges from hostile to indifferent to receptive]
Free will is part of our receptivity, too. Do we freely choose to engage with God, to listen to him, to do what He suggests? Or are we indifferent, angry? Will we only let God into our lives a little bit? It is always our choice. After laying out in Deuteronomy 28 the blessings we would enjoy if we followed his Word and the curses we would endure if we didn’t, God urged us to choose wisely that we might lead happy productive lives, connected to Him. He told us, through Moses, “This day I call the heavens and the earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you, life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live and that you may love the Lord your God, listen to his voice and hold fast to him. [Deuteronomy 30:19-20]
If we do choose to listen to, to depend on God in everything, we are choosing to live burden free, to be our own created selves, to align ourselves with God in everything. As Martin Luther King, Jr., said, we are “Free at last, Free at last, Thank God Almighty we are free at last!” [http://www.americanrhetoric.com/speeches/mlkihaveadream.htm] What sounds like another form of slavery—obedience—actually frees us tremendously from everything that binds us.
Questions to ponder over the week: How much of my life have I turned over to God? 10%? 40% 60%? All of it? What do I hold back from God? Do I see any need or desire to turn my whole life over to God? What would be the benefit of giving it all?
Blessing of the week: May we be the people of God who dedicate their lives to God, to Christ. May we depend on God in everything. May we express the qualities of God—mercy, compassion, forgiveness and love—in all that we do.
*****I’m doing more research for my book. If you have had the experience of God revealing to you what your purpose is, would you write me in the Messages and tell me what that purpose is and how it came about. I would greatly appreciate your help. I’ll use it in my book, but the writer will remain anonymous. This is the last week I will be asking.
My book, “Thy Kingdom Come!”, is up on Amazon in both paperback and Kindle versions. Look under Patricia Said Adams.
I have an essay published in an anthology of writings by Christian authors, entitled “What Can We Learn About Suffering From the Exodus Story.” The book is entitled Let Hope Arise by Authors for Christ and is available on Amazon.
Check out the archives of all my posts going back to 2011 on this page.