…Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness… Matthew 4:1
Our image of the wilderness is one of landscapes, beauty, and well-marked trails. In a sense, I live in a kind of wilderness right here in the upper Arkansas River Valley, surrounded by mountains that touch the sky.
In the ancient world wilderness was not thought of in the same way. It was a place of isolation, lostness, and death. This image of the wilderness is actually where we get our word “bewildered” from. To be turned around, to be upside down, and to not know where you are going—bewildered.
In the Bible the wilderness becomes a kind of visual short-hand for the dark and painful side of life with the living God. Experiences of disorientation, trouble, heartache, depression, and distress—this is the wilderness.
The times when you pray, read, and listen for God—and hear nothing. That is wilderness.
The writer Thomas Merton said, “God, who is everywhere, never leaves us, yet sometimes He seems to be present and sometimes absent, and if we do not know Him well, we do not realize that He may be more present to us when He’s absent than when He’s present.” Or to put it another way, God may be most powerfully present when he seems most conspicuously absent.
Everyone who follows Jesus, follows Him into the wilderness. You either have been, are in one now, or are headed for a dry, empty, heartbreaking time where your prayers go unanswered and you feel utterly alone.
But here is the truth: God is in the wilderness. Jesus didn’t go out into the wilderness because God forgot about Him or He forgot about God. He’s in the wilderness because the Spirit led Him there.
There might be more than a few of you who feel as God might not care about you because you are spiritually thirsty, spiritually lonely, and spiritually hungry—you are as parched as any time in your life at a soul-level. And it is easy to mutter to yourself that God doesn’t care about you and your plight.
It is good to be between a ruined house of bondage and a holy promised land. ~Leonard Cohen
That is the wilderness. That land of in between. We are not in the bondage of Egypt, and we are not yet in the land flowing with milk and honey. The wilderness is an important place because in Webster and in life, wilderness always comes before wisdom.
Jesus traces all of mankind’s wandering steps away from God—to lead us back home to God.
In the very opening moments of the drama of scripture Adam and Eve were cast out of paradise for turning their backs on God and driven out into the wilderness—east of Eden— and then several millennia later Jesus goes into the wilderness to bring us back home to God.
In the story of God’s people in the book of Exodus, they chose once again to not listen to God’s voice and turned an eleven day journey into a forty year exodus in the wilderness, Jesus spends forty days in the wilderness faithfully listening to the voice of the Father to bring us back home to God.
In Genesis 3 the human family disobeyed God by eating the fruit of a tree and the world is plunged into death. Around Jesus’ 33rd birthday, Jesus was nailed to the hard wood of a tree to deal with our disobedience and death and to give us life with God.
Jesus joins us in our wildernesses. Here is a story of one of my wilderness experiences:
Jesus knows the way,