People Just Like Us

For several years now, my husband and I have ended most of our days by reading the Bible together. As we’ve read, many times I have shook my head in wonder at the stupidity of the ancient Israelites in the Old Testament.

I’m thinking specifically of the oppressed Israelites who had once lived in Egypt…as brutalized slaves. These people cried out to God for a deliverer and He sent Moses, who worked amazing signs and wonders – very public displays of God’s power – until he was finally told to leave the country with his people, the Israelites. The Israelites saw God, through Moses, open up the Red Sea and make a path for them to walk across on dry ground. They were also then given the gift of seeing God lead them around the wilderness in a giant cloud-like pillar day after day, and a pillar of fire – a floating pillar of fire! – at night. Nowhere did they go unless the presence of God led them there.

Following this incredible display of supernatural power, these very same people spent 40 years being reminded that God is for them. They watched as water sprang out of rock to quench their thirst (Exodus 17:1-7), and they witnessed record numbers of birds dropping right at their doorsteps to satisfy their craving for meat (Exodus 16). Kings fell before them (Numbers 21:21-35), and no kingdom was allowed to overpower them. Even their sandals did not wear out from 40 years of walking in hot sand (Deuteronomy 29:5). That in itself is a miracle.

In other words, they were given, over and over, powerful reminders of God’s presence among them and steadfast love for them. At some point, you would think that they would have come to a point where they trusted God completely, and lived in conscious awareness of and gratitude toward Him. You’d think after literally seeing God’s power displayed for their benefit over and over, they would come to not only know God, but that they would be entirely incapable of forgetting Him.

Wrong.

Within a generation or so of being brought into the promised land and handed an abundant life, those same people did exactly that. They minimized the Lord’s role in their prosperity and raised children who did not know much about God (Judges 2:10-14), and who subsequently began to do “what was right in their own eyes” (Judges 21:25).

When we first began reading through the Old Testament books that detail the Exodus, I remember thinking those Israelites must have been particularly slow-witted, thick-headed people. How on earth can you witness that kind of power and not have it change your life forever?

God has seen fit to give me examples from my own life, however, to humble me and help me to see that, far from being “better” than the Israelites of old, I am exactly like them. I am so quick to forget Who God is and why that should make all the difference in the world in how I live my life.

An example that strikes particularly deep for me these days involves the death of someone I loved very much. A year ago this month, my college-aged niece was killed when the scooter she was riding to work was hit by a pick-up truck. She was in a coma for 12 days before the doctors were able to determine that her brain injury was fatal. In the days following her accident, death and burial, I thought over and over again about how precious life is, and how little control we have. In fact, I wrote about it a year ago (“Our Undeniable Powerlessness“). I also remember hugging my kids a little harder, drinking in their presence a little more deeply, and thinking I will never again take it for granted that “I’ve got plenty of time” to enjoy the time I have with any of my loved ones.

One year later, I find that I have already fallen back into living as if I am “guaranteed” all kinds of time with my husband, children, and extended family. It makes me wonder…how on earth can we live out change, when it’s so easy to fall back into old, familiar patterns?

Os Guinness, in his book “The Call,” makes a powerful statement that only further convicts me: “Ingratitude and forgetfulness are ultimately moral rather than mental; they are the direct expression of sin.” The sin Guinness refers to is ingratitude in the sense that we very naturally come to view the gifts God bestows upon us as entitlements. Our hard hearts look around at the people and things that surround us and we live our lives as if everything will always be there because, after all, they are ours.

So, with a convicted heart, I return to my question: How can I possibly hold on to gratitude and delight for the precious gifts God has given me, without sliding back into entitled thinking?

I’m sure there are probably a lot of ways to answer that question, but the one answer that makes the most sense to me is that I simply must spend time with Jesus in order for Him to be able to transform my heart from self-focus to other-focus. A relationship with Jesus, a walking alongside Him as best I can, a calling upon Him in the day-to-day details, is the only way I know to allow Him to slowly change my heart to be more and more like His. And nothing else can change my heart in any lasting way but Christ.

I try to remind myself daily of what Christ did for me in breathing real life into me after 37 years of living. To start there is to acknowledge that everything else can be swept away from me, like Job, and yet I will still have everything.

Should everything be swept away, I would be devastated, of course. The loss of my niece has been devastating to untold numbers of people who loved her. But how can I not be grateful for what I already have, which I do not and will never “deserve,” but which can never be taken away? God sent His son to be for me what I could not possibly be for myself. Perfect.

Hard-heartedness is certainly not unique to the ancient Israelites called out of Egypt by their loving Heavenly Father. As I have returned to the Old Testament again and again, I am spending considerably less time shaking my head in disbelief at the twelve tribes of Jacob. Rather than view the accounts in Exodus as a one-way window to the past history of God’s people and their rebellion, I think I am truly coming to a place where I see it as God intended. It is not a one-way window; it is a mirror.

Leave a Reply