Part 2 – Mistrust
**This is part two of a Lenten Series called “Wild Wanderings” recapping lessons with my students at iLuminate Youth at Hanfield UMC. Last week we explored our radiant transformation as evidence for encountering God’s miraculous power. We continue building on that foundation here.**
Our operative definition for faith is “choosing to believe in something we cannot see or don’t understand,” and there can be no doubt that God is invisible and beyond understanding. Despite that, millions of people the world over claim some adherence to a deity or multiply deities. There can be no verifiable evidence in the sense of scientific proof for God, but the entire idea of faith belies a need for evidence (though it would be encouraging!). However, so many of the believers of various world religions claim undeniable experiences that it’s hard to dismiss the idea of God altogether.
For us, in a Christian church drawing its line to the Methodist denomination, belief in the God of the Judeo-Christian tradition is taken for granted. Belief is not the same thing as truly trusting that the miracles, myths, legends, testimonies, and reports of God’s action in our world are actually true. Belief alone is different than trusting that despite the evil at work in our world there is both a current and prophesied hope for the reconciliation of all peoples and things to each other and the pure righteousness of God. Belief will not guarantee that I will live as though God is real, alive, and still active in our world and lives. Belief is not trust.
Relationship builds trust.
If we look at Scripture we see within the covenant God made with the nation of Israel upon its exodus from Egypt that God was interested in a back-and-forth relationship with Israel, not just a one-sided obedience. The people were divinely rescued from slavery, divinely carried to safety, and divinely provided for in the wilderness – God was intent on participating in relationship with the people. From the get-go, if God is God in all love, holiness, justice, righteousness, grace, etc, we must acknowledge our lack of standing before the Majesty – Lev 15:31 sets this up: “their impurity would defile my Tabernacle that stands among them.” In the midst of repeated covenantal requirements for Israel to obey, we see the heart of God behind them – that we would become reunified with God, holy as God is holy.
Through the people’s lack of investment in the relationship they did not build foundational trust with Him. A flash-in-the-pan of miraculous outpouring proves nothing because this on its own does not cause belief, though it can inspire it. Trusting faith is built as we repeatedly respond to the God who is miraculously acting on our behalf.
Because Israel did not stay in relationship with God (pray, follow, seek, crave, etc) they did not trust God. Because they did not trust God (that the power displayed on their behalf was for their benefit, that the God who acted on their behalf desired their return to God’s loving arms, that this relationship was reciprocal and required their obedience) they did not hold up their end of the covenantal bargain.
There are multiple ways that the Israelites failed in their obedience. Keep in mind, Ex 40:34-48 describes how God’s presence was continually with them in the Tabernacle when they made camp and in the cloud over them as they travelled. These people literally walked with God everywhere they went, but it is apparent that we can still ignore and deny His presence even when it is immediately beside us.
As the nation journeyed from Mt Sinai towards Canaan to enter the land God had promised them, Numbers 11 describes how the people got bored with the Heavenly manna God provided every morning. They wanted meat, and they even took the time to complain loudly to Moses that (although they had been slaves) at least in Egypt they had fish and meat when they wanted it. The sin of the nation here is that they did not trust God’s goodness or providence for them – they wanted meat instead. In the story Moses reminded God they needed enough to feed the over 600,000 soldiers and their families when God replied, “Has my arm lost its power (11:23)?”
God provided enough quail to feed the people many times over. Remember the foundation of the covenant was relational restoration with God which would have made them holy as they held up their end of the bargain. However, God had already provided manna on a daily basis. The people did not need the quail and their indulgence in it was a lack of trust in God – those who ate it died in their impurity.
One might think that this act alone would re-re-re-remind the Israelites who they’re in covenant with (the Creator of the Universe, Holy God). In the very next chapter Aaron and Miriam, Moses’ brother and sister, additional leaders in the nation, revealed their own lack of trust in God. They complained about wanting Moses’ kind of spiritual power (completely denying it is God’s power in Moses and not Moses’ own power). As a result, she got leprosy (but after following the purification rituals was cleansed).
Three strikes, and you’re out. Israel made it to the edge of the Promised Land, but they wanted to be really sure. Numbers 13 describes the journey of the 12 spies that were sent to investigate the land. Though the fruits of the land were as plentiful as promised, the people were bigger than expected, they had a fresh test: trust God and enter the land or run? 10 of the spies recommended running while Joshua and Caleb attempted to get the people to faithfully walk into Canaan.
At this point the fake news of the day won and the people rebelled against God and Moses’ leadership – there were not going to enter the Promised Land and even threatened to stone to the two truth-tellers, Joshua and Caleb. God boomed from the cloud and the people quieted down really quickly, but Moses prayed and interceded on their behalf to ask God not to plague them. God spared them, but this act of mistrust in God earned them a severe punishment. For each of the 40 days the spies spent in the land the nation would spend one year in the desert wandering. In fact, this ensured that the adults of the rebellious generation would pass away before the nation entered, because their faithlessness had been proven enough thus far in the journey.
Is that enough? Does that not prove that if God makes a promise, a covenant with us, that trusting Him and holding up our end is better than not?
The problem is that God’s children here were acting like.. children. So the next morning after this punishment was announced (and a wise, duly chastened child might come back to mommy or daddy with a handmade apology card and even try messing up the kitchen to fix breakfast-in-bed and prove their apology and love) the nation of Israel loaded up and headed…towards Canaan?! They didn’t do exactly what God said – they doubled down in their sin and thought they could just savvy their way back into God’s good graces. Savvy is not the same as obedience! Moses came to them and pleaded (essentially), “You idiots! The Tabernacle and the Ark of the Covenant are still here. Don’t do it! The whole reason you’re in trouble is for not listening to God!”
He actually said, “Do not go up into the land now. You will only be crushed by your enemies because the Lord is not with you (Num 14:42).” He then tells them if they go to the Promised Land the inhabitants of the land will chase and/or slaughter them…which is exactly what happens when they don’t stay with God’s presence.
This Lent, this season of fasting and attempting to get back in touch with God, this time of acknowledging our own wild wanderings and attempting to have them redeemed, let us remember a few things.
1) God’s arm has not lost its power, even today.
2) The fact that we exist and breathe indicates
His already miraculous involvement in our lives
3) Regardless of how difficult the circumstances may be
(especially because we usually make the circumstances poor ourselves),
it is better to begin trusting God and stop going our own way
4) Sin is an act of rebellion against the covenant with God,
and mistrust is the first step on that journey
The question I asked the students: Do you come clean when caught in sin, or do you double down?
The solution is to simply stay with God’s presence. The formula is tried and true, but rarely practiced – crucify the ego (be humble), pray, read God’s word, look for opportunities to love others and serve. That first step is the trouble – humbling ourselves to acknowledge our sin, ask for forgiveness, and stop doing the stupid thing, is such a key (as the people of God ignored repeatedly in our story today). So I challenged the students to find somebody more spiritually mature than themselves – a friend, pastor, sibling, parent, teacher (just somebody they trust) – and confess a sin, then ask this person to pray with them asking God for forgiveness.
We are in this journey together – each of us are simply trying to find a way out of the wilderness of sin and separation from God. Life is hard enough without willfully compounding our problems as the ancient Israelites did. Rather, let’s pursue God together, and when we do find glorious moments of His presence, let’s not willfully leave. None of this will be able to spark belief in God, but hopefully something has helped strengthen your trust in God and lead to a stronger degree of faith.
Go with GOD,