It sounds easy enough, I've read and re-read the Gospels tons... But as always happens when you undertake a serious reading of scripture, and approach the text with an open mind, new things crop up that you have never seen before and they can lead to questions and doubts and hopefully, in the best of circumstances, new understandings about how God moves in our world.
This part of the story has really caught hold of me over the last week:
Mar 1:12 The Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness.
Mark uses a very active verb to describe what happened to Christ after his baptism in the Jordan.
Matthew and Luke both have Jesus being "led" by the Spirit into the wilderness, but Mark doesn't paint the picture as something gentle. Mark has the Spirit driving, thrusting, propelling Jesus into the desert, the wilderness, the barrenness.
Mark's statement "The Spirit immediately drove Him," makes it feel almost as if Christ went against His will...
Jesus story begins with a Divine affirmation, a reunion of the trinity, a granting of authority but immediately leads to an extended even forced stay in the wilderness. But we find historically He is in good company:
Abraham, wandered in the desert between the promise and the birth of Isaac.
Israel wandered between the liberation from Egypt and the entrance of the promised land.
David hid in desert caves between finding God's favor and stepping to the throne.
Elisha dwelt in the wilderness between receiving Elijah's spirit and bringing God's word to his people...
You get the point.
So what if bouts in the wilderness are an essential part of life in the Spirit?
Could the desert wilderness represent the barren and harsh places in our own lives?
Are they the places of trial and abandonment where we are forced to realize that we are not in control?
Is the wilderness a terrifying space where we are able to realize we are completely vulnerable and completely dependent?
Since we were banished from the Garden the wilderness has been a part of our journey.
But this doesn't fit with much of what we are told in Western Christianity, does it?
We are led to believe that "life in the Spirit" means constant joy, peace, happiness, and smugness (knowing all of the answers without even asking the questions). We are left to assume that any period of doubt, sadness, or just general unjoyfulness is the result of Satan's activity or OUR OWN sin's alienating power.
But what if that's not always the case?
What if there are seasons when the Spirit drives us out?
What if there is a Divine Wisdom in wilderness that can be learned nowhere else?
What if seasons in the desert are simply part of the path we are on following Jesus?
What if the wilderness is an essential part of life in the Spirit?
What if robust faith lives somewhere between absolute trust and deep doubt?
What does it look like to really embrace our wilderness, not just endure it, or pray to be out of it, but to accept it and allow it to shape us.
Where are the wilderness places in my journey, in your journey, in our manifestations of ekklēsia, in our world?
What does it mean for us to embrace them?
What do we have to learn from them?
And what might the spirit be preparing us for?
It's been a week of hard driving and penetrating questions for me as I wrestle my own theology and hope to see the word with new eyes and hear it with new ears...
Please share any thoughts, questions, or answers from your own journeys.