I’m on a Bible reading plan that has me working through the Bible chronologically. Since I started it with the new year, I’ve spent the last few weeks hunkered down with the Israelites in the desert and, given how long they were in the desert all told, I won’t be done reading about them any time soon.
And let me tell you, I’ve about had it with these guys. Every time I come to this section of the Bible (a section that spans multiple books, mind you) I’m floored by how regularly the Israelites simply lose all ability to restrain themselves or stay calm. They lose it over food shortages. They lose it over the route. They lose it over how long they’ve been on that route. They lose it when Moses leaves. They lose it when he comes back. Half the time it seems like there’s absolutely no reason why they’re losing it other than they just felt like it.
They don’t just lose it in small ways either. This isn’t lowercase worry that keeps them up at night. This is completely unhinged panicking. Some of it to the extent that Moses and Aaron find themselves in danger. What shocks me the most, however, is what the Israelites say almost every single time they panic.
“We should have stayed in Egypt.”
As a reader, it’s a shocking sentiment. How could the horrors of their time in Egypt be so easily forgotten? How could they forget the misery they endured? How could they forget the years of hardship and suffering and slavery? How could they forget all the times they felt God was so far away from them and all the times they wondered if they would ever be free again?
But we do the same. We’re just as bad as the Israelites. We comfort ourselves with the idea that we would act differently in the same situation while doing the exact same thing in our own personal lives. We may not be crying about going back to Egypt, but we do all our own equivalents to it. How many times during the course of our lives do we cry about our current situation by comparing it to a rose-colored past? We’re ultimately faced with the same reality the Israelites couldn’t see in the moment. There is nothing waiting for you where you’ve already been. It’s gone. It’s done. Whatever good you can hold onto from that time or place you’ve already taken it with you.
The fear witnessed in situations like these is symptomatic of a much greater issue: a lack of trust. That’s the big piece. The greatest reason we cry for our past is out of fear for our future. And I know. It’s terrifying. The terrifying unknown will always feel a thousand times worse to walk into than a situation we already know to be bad for us. Familiarity has a way of masking just how bad a situation truly is for us. We simply cannot trust ourselves to a situation just because it’s familiar. That is not an adequate indication that a situation is good for us.
The Israelites were in favor of returning to a familiar past of terror and heartbreak instead of trusting an unknown future laid out by the God who delivered them. The lack of discernment there is staggering but bears evaluating alongside our own lives. Where are we doing the same?
I’d like to suggest that the greatest way to thwart trust opposing fear is to pause and consider if the same source that got you out of the last bad situation is the same one leading you into the unknown now. If that’s the case, the evidence would suggest that the unknown might not be so unknown after all. You know the source to lead and lead well.
God doesn’t take us into an unknown situation just to abandon us there. That’s not his way. I’d wager if you examined all the times God has called you into an unknown you’d also be able to examine all the ways he took you to the other side of it. God is not just flinging us around in our lives and seeing where we land just for funsies. He has a plan, and given his success rate, I would confidently say it’s a plan we can trust. Yes, trust over fear is the harder work, but it also yields the better results in our lives. Pause, breathe, trust, and move forward.
One final note. The existence of fear and doubt in your life does not automatically equal failure. You are not a failure from the first twinges of panic and uncertainty. Fear is a very real consideration in our lives, but it doesn’t need to be in the driver’s seat. There is a huge difference between experiencing fear and leading with fear. The gap between these considerations of fear is nothing more complicated than trust. Trust keeps fear out of the driver’s seat. We would not look at the Israelites in the old testament with the same sad shaking of our heads if they were afraid but obeyed without hesitation. It stands to reason that trusting God with the unknown could save us a similar fate. By all means, be afraid, but be even more trusting.
Let’s find some joy,