I have been reading my former seminary professor’s work Leaving Egypt: Finding God in the Wilderness Places. It’s a journey. A long one. The basic thesis is that we prefer to taste the luxury of food offered to idols than the bread of heaven. We have forgotten to long for the Promised Land. We prefer the Egyptian culture.
Chuck DeGroat really brings to life this paradox of our journeys from real counseling sessions and personal life-stories. I will be interviewing Chuck at a later Trinity Talk episode, but one clear message from the book is how much we underestimate suffering. Suffering is usually cheapened with even cheaper slogans.
Psalm 88, that psalm of abandonment, is full of realness. In the realness, there is constant suffering. The Psalmist writes:
You have taken away my companions and loved ones.
Darkness is my closest friend.
The Psalmist feels abandoned in Job-like manner; so abandoned that darkness becomes his closest ally in grief. The pain is real. As Chuck DeGroat observes:
As much as we believe that God can redeem our journey through the wilderness, we should never underestimate its destructive force.
We cannot trivialize suffering and its force. The pain is not to be taken lightly and neither is the journey. The journey brings rough winds and those winds push us around with remarkable ease. The weaker we are the more damage it does to us.
I have just returned from preaching a funeral of a parishioner who committed his life to abandoning God. In his brief time in our congregation he sought death vociferously. But while he sought death he was confronted with the message of life many times. I believe he accepted that message though his garments were stained with fire, as Jude says. This is not the life we have been called to live. We were not created to live in Egyptian bondage. Our bondage was meant as a prelude to glory. In desiring Egypt we become addicted to more suffering and forget that God is preparing us to “flourish in the land flowing with milk and honey. a
Death waits with open arms. Suffering is real. We should not trivialize its force. But at the same time we should desire new companions (Ps. 1). Darkness is the friend of abandonment. At times these are genuine Christian laments. But in lamenting we also remember that God is still the God of our salvation. The Psalmist who laments is the Psalmist who trusts in his God.
- DeGroat, 82 (back)