I love the wilderness. I don't mind cooking over the fire, carrying my water, dealing with freezing nights or sleeping on the ground if it gets me into those quiet and beautiful places. I don't care much for the wilderness of life, however, those places where we feel war is being waged for our souls as we fight off pressing concerns of life. Even in that kind of wilderness, God reaches out to us and keeps us alive.
I'm starting a new series on Romans called "Essentials for the Journey (How God Keeps Us Alive in the Wilderness)".
In Romans 1 & 2, Paul's letter opens up with some verses that are really difficult for us to read. A lot of people can't get past his words, so they close up the book and miss the good stuff in it. When we read Romans 1:18 through chapter 2, we're left with a horrific impression of our sin and realize we are all in trouble. How do we survive this wilderness we find ourselves in? It becomes clear to us that we don't survive it...at least not on our own.
I love that even in the most difficult parts of scripture, the goodness of God can been seen.
In Romans 1:20, we read how God has not abandoned us in this wilderness but instead is revealing himself to us and making a way for us. In Romans 2:4, we read that the kindness of God is what brings us to repentance. We are reminded that the Lord is kind and patient. Just about the time we think destruction is inescapable, he comes and brings us life. We learn that it is God's goodness -- not ours -- that helps us find out way out of this wilderness.
Our goodness doesn't help us get out of this wilderness. We can't perform our way out of this mess. If it were up to us, we'd be stuck in this wilderness forever. Henri Nouwen said, "Those who think they've arrived have lost their way. Those who think they have reached their goal have missed it. Those who think they are saints are demons." We only fool ourselves when we think we can make a case to God for our goodness.
Our sin doesn't help us get out of this wilderness either. Focusing on our own sin just keeps us captive in shame and guilt. We can't get anywhere by self-loathing. Thoreau said that most people lead lives of quiet desperation. He's probably right. How many live in the squalor of regret? Regret, however, only serves one good purpose: to drive us into the heart of God (where mercy triumphs over judgment).
The only thing that leads us out of the wilderness is the goodness of God! [Read Titus 3:4-6]
A few years ago, I was in Colorado's back country in the middle of winter, chasing the kind of wilderness I love. The snow was deep, and it covered a lot of the Forest Service road signs. I followed my instincts and ended up hung up on a snowbank a long where from where I wanted to be. And the sun was setting. To make matters worse, I left my shovel back home and only had an ice scraper with which to attempt to dig myself out.
Hours later, a stranger showed up with a truck bigger than mine, and he was able to pull me free.
Brennan Manning said, "Our poverty brings us to the awareness of the sovereignty of God and our absolute insufficiency. We simply cannot do anything on our own. All is the work of grace. I am convinced that without a gut level experience of our profound emptiness, it's not possible to encounter the living God."
Of all the essentials for the journey God has given us, it is his goodness that comes to mind first. I believe there is a God, and I believe He is good! I am not convinced the world is good, nor am I convinced I am good. I am, however, convinced that He is good (and His mercy endures forever!).