One of the texts that I spent some time on during last Sunday’s sermon was Isaiah 40:1-11 which speaks of good things coming from the wilderness. Words of comfort for beleaguered exiles, words of hope in the God who raises the valleys and brings low the mountains, words of good tidings to be proclaimed from the mountaintops, that the Lord comes to his people with strength and with compassion. Good words, from the wilderness.
“The wilderness” makes a number of appearances in Scripture, of course, whether in the story of the exodus from Egypt, Jesus’ temptation, or Israel’s experience of exile in general. The wilderness can stand for a place of testing, a place of refinement, rebellion, suffering, fidelity, and more. It is a metaphor rich with spiritual significance—a powerful lens through which to view our own experiences in the life of faith.
One of my good friends from the west coast periodically finds cheap books at an MCC Thrift Shop, and is kind enough to ship them over the Rocky Mountains to me. This week, a lovely brown parcel arrived on my desk with a number of interesting titles. Among them, was Japanese theologian Kosuke Koyama’s Three Mile an Hour God. Thumbing through it today, I read these words from Koyama about “the wilderness”:
Wilderness, then, is the place where we are face to face with danger and promise. And that is an educational situation for the people of God. When danger and promise come together for us, it is called crisis. The Bible does not simply speak of danger. If it did so, the biblical faith would be reduced to a”protection-from-danger-religion.” The Bible does not simply speak about promise. If it did so, the biblical faith would be reduced to a “happy-ending-religion.” The Bible speaks about a crisis situation, coexistence of danger and promise—wilderness—and there God teaches man. In the wilderness we are called to go beyond “protection-from-danger-religion” and “happy-ending-religion.” There we are called to “trust” in God.
The wilderness is the place where a deep, trans-rational trust can emerge. Trust that goes beyond happy endings, beyond pleasant circumstances, beyond protection, beyond what we can get from God. Trust that clings to God for his own sake.
The wilderness is where God alone has to be enough.