|'If I'm Saved, Why Is Life So Hard?' (Exodus 5:22-23)
I suspect that being human is, for all practical purposes at least, synonymous with being in trouble. There is always something going on that has the dimensions of a crisis in our lives. The stock market has us worried about the economy. Something going on in the family has us concerned about him or her, their marriage or his mom. Cultural changes make us angry for what they are doing to the family. I'm failing two courses at midterm and have a term paper due next week. I've really messed up this time and have given in to the one temptation I had vowed would never trip me up in my relationship to God.
Isn't that the human story? Isn't it your story? It's certainly mine.
We are deep enough into Exodus to understand by now that the second book of the Torah is more than history. Oh, it is that. Judah and his descendants went down into Egypt in the days of Joseph. Within a few generations, their situation changed radically when a new dynasty of rulers came to power and enslaved the Israelites. Then Yahweh acted through Moses to bring his people out of bondage and to lead them to a Promised Land. All of this was in fulfillment of his covenant promise to Abraham a promise made centuries before to bless his descendants and give them a land for their own possession.
But Exodus is "more than history" in that it is also the human story writ large. I have gone to favored situations only to have them change and work against me. You have experienced bondage and slavery of some sort if not to a person then to a habit or addictive substance. We have needed a deliverer and guide to show us the way to a better life, a holier relationship, and a secure future.
Exodus can be outlined under five major headings: grace, pilgrimage, covenant, worship, and glory. A redeemed and triumphant life can be described with the very same words. But one of the recurring issues with Moses, the Israelites, and me is this: If God is involved in my life and if I really do live in the security of his grace during my spiritual pilgrimage, why are some days so hard?
"The Hurrier I Go . . ."
Do you know the old maxim of stressed-out folks that says "The hurrier I go, the behinder I get"? Life seems to work that way for me at times. It's not as bad as it used to be, thank God! I've learned that some discipline in commitments made spares me considerable hair-pulling later on. But I am still a first-class case study in biting off more than I can chew on occasion.
A deeper spiritual version of the hurrier-I-go principle is this: "The more aggressive I get in seeking God, the more obstacles, discouragement, and failure I seem to encounter." I have the question put to me in a variety of forms. One of the most common and direct versions asks, "If I'm saved, why is my life so hard?" It's a pregnant sixteen-year-old who is beating up on herself. It's a man indicted for stealing money from his company. It's a married couple mourning the miscarriage of the baby they had already seen in ultrasound images. It's a woman grieving the death of her husband. It's a man trying to find focus for his life following a divorce.
There is this strange but predictable event that takes place in the human heart during hard times and crises. We hear a voice inside, and it practically demands that we measure the love of God at that moment in direct proportion to the pain we are feeling. "Things used to be better than they are now," it says, "and you might have believed back there that God cared about you. But where is he now? If God loved you, this wouldn't be happening. If you were saved, you wouldn't be hurting so."
That's wrong totally wrong. Suffering is sometimes a punishment for sin. Pharaoh and his Egyptian subjects certainly suffered under a series of ten plagues for the nation's oppression of the Israelites and more specifically still for the unbelief and hardness of heart on Pharaoh's part. But most of the suffering in this world is random. People aren't born into poverty or to abusive parents because God wills them to suffer such a fate. Birth defects, IQ deficits, social injustice these aren't index guides to the heart of God for a given person or historical period.
As a matter of fact, suffering sometimes comes to a person not because he or she is unspiritual or unloved but because some evil power is trying to destroy that person. Human circumstances have never been a reliable index either to a person's spiritual status or value to God.
Read a few lines with me from the New Testament:
And what more should I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, obtained promises, shut the mouths of lions, quenched raging fire, escaped the edge of the sword, won strength out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. Women received their dead by resurrection (Heb. 11:32-35a)."That's my point!" somebody interrupts. "When people have faith and are being blessed by God, good things happen to them. The lions' mouths can't bite them. They escape the sword. They get what they want even to the raising back to life of their dead. So what I want to know is . . ."
Hold on. Wait just a minute. We haven't finished the reading yet. We were right in the middle of a verse. Let's read a few more lines:
Others were tortured, refusing to accept release, in order to obtain a better resurrection. Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned to death, they were sawn in two, they were killed by the sword; they went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, persecuted, tormented of whom the world was not worthy. They wandered in deserts and mountains, and in caves and holes in the ground (Heb. 11:35b-38).Now do you see my point? One's circumstances are not and never have been a reliable guide to his salvation, degree of faith, or value to God. These people who were tortured, murdered, and destitute were saints of God. Their story is referenced for us in Hebrews 11 the great biblical discourse on faith, the roll call of faith-filled servants of the Lord, "Faith's Hall of Fame."
The Experience of the Israelites
Getting back to our biblical story about "When God Builds Community," Yahweh had appeared to Moses in Exodus 3. The 80-year-old man who was tending sheep in the Sinai Peninsula was hauled up short by a bush on fire. That gets a nomad's attention in that part of the world! But not only was the fire not spreading to grazing areas, it wasn't even consuming the bush. What gives? It was a miraculous sign that was part of Yahweh's call for Moses to lead Israel out of bondage.
God made a wonderful revelation to Moses about his name Yahweh, The Lord, I Am. Now this isn't the first time in Scripture this name is used of Israel's God. It appears a number of times in Genesis. What was "new" here is the revelation of the full meaning of this name no, the nature of God himself as the covenant-honoring God of Israel. Yahweh a term derived from the Hebrew verb "to be" means "He is" or "He will be" or, as a proper noun, "The One Who Is Absolute and Unchanging" or "The One Who Performs His Promises."
Names were more than ID-tags for the Hebrew people. When Abram's name was changed to Abraham, Sarai to Sarah, or Jacob to Israel, it was for the sake of saying something about that person and his or her function. Abraham and his offspring had known God as The Almighty One and The Generous One. Now the time had come for them to know him for his continuity with Israel, his faithfulness to fulfill promises to Israel, and his redemptive mercy to Israel.
Moses said to God, "If I come to the Israelites and say to them, The God of your ancestors has sent me to you,' and they ask me, What is his name?' what shall I say to them?" God said to Moses, "I Am Who I Am." He said further, "Thus you shall say to the Israelites, I Am has sent me to you.' " God also said to Moses, "Thus you shall say to the Israelites, The Lord, the God of your ancestors, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you':Spurred by the sight of the bush, the sound of God's voice, and the promise of a new revelation of God's nature as I Am, Moses went to Pharaoh and made the demand that the Israelites be set free. Was he expecting it to be that easy? Pharaoh responded by telling himself the Hebrews were idle and had too much time on their hands to be dreaming about freedom. So he told the taskmasters to increase their work load. The Egyptian taskmasters and the Israelite supervisors working beneath them were told that henceforth the workers would not only make bricks but collect the straw necessary to make the mud easier to work. And the required quotas were not reduced. It was an impossible task.
This is my name forever,Go and assemble the elders of Israel, and say to them, The Lord, the God of your ancestors, the God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob, has appeared to me, saying: I have given heed to you and to what has been done to you in Egypt. I declare that I will bring you up out of the misery of Egypt, to the land of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites, a land flowing with milk and honey' " (Ex. 3:13-17).
and this my title for all generations.
So the lives of the slaves got worse. They were threatened and beaten (Ex. 5:10- 20). The Hebrew supervisors got in the faces of Moses and Aaron aid told them, "The Lord look upon you and judge! You have brought us into bad odor with Pharaoh and his officials, and have put a sword in their hand to kill us" (Ex. 5:21). And listen to what the text says Moses did at that point:
Then Moses turned again to the Lord and said, "O Lord, why have you mistreated this people? Why did you ever send me? Since I first came to Pharaoh to speak in your name, he has mistreated this people, and you have done nothing at all to deliver your people" (Ex. 5:22-23).The truth of the matter is, of course, that this should not have caught Moses off guard. Back at the burning bush in Sinai, Yahweh had said these words to him: "I know, however, that the king of Egypt will not let you go unless compelled by a mighty hand. So I will stretch out my hand and strike Egypt with all my wonders that I will perform in it; after that he will let you go" (Ex. 3:19- 20). It was never going to be a cakewalk. God hadn't said it would be easy. In fact, he told Moses from the start that Pharaoh would resist and fight back.
God's Concern and My Comfort
If there is a direct relationship between God's love and human good fortune, Moses should have renounced the whole thing right then and there. Oh, he staggered under the blow. He forgot that Yahweh had told him back in the desert that it wouldn't be easy. And the man who would later endure so many complaints against himself and his divine mission turned on God himself! He said Yahweh had "mistreated" the Hebrews. He told God he had "done nothing at all to deliver your people."
Whew! That's a pretty strong indictment for a mortal to bring against I Am, isn't it! But a promise-keeping God of grace told his bewildered servant, "Now you shall see what I will do to Pharaoh" (Ex. 6:1). He didn't swat him like a fly for his confusion. He reassured him. He reminded him that this hadn't caught him off-guard and that he had always known things would get worse before getting better. He let him know he was still going to use him as Israel's deliverer.
When you are tempted to judge God's faithful love by your sad circumstances, don't! Like Joseph in Pharaoh's dungeon so many years before Moses, your situation may only be the dark hours before dawn. Like the Israelites under Pharaoh's lash, it may be the final trial before a mighty rescue. Like Paul's thorn in the flesh, it may be your invitation to experience God's grace at a deeper level. Or, like some of those people who are referenced in the second part of the reading from Hebrews 11 earlier in this lesson, the resolution of your trial today may not come until you are released from this world to be with God in person.
Life may still be hard even though you are saved. And you simply must not fall victim to the faith-destroying lie that says heartache and suffering mean God doesn't care about you. If you have never accepted Christ as Savior, Lord, and Ever- Present Help, there will never be a better time than now.
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