The prophet Isaiah pictured the gospel comfort of the coming Savior this way: “Waters will flow in the wilderness, and streams in the wasteland.”
It was a picture God’s Old Testament people could appreciate. Delivered from bondage in Egypt, they had marched forth through the wilderness toward the land of promise.
On their journey to the Horeb mountain range, the hills got higher. The valleys got deeper. The rocks got bigger. The water got scarcer. The children of Israel gave way to their besetting sin of grumbling against God.
At God’s merciful and compassionate command, Moses struck the rock in the wilderness. Water gushed forth to quench the thirst of thousands.
But here too, they missed the larger lesson. What does St. Paul tell us about this miracle? “They drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them—and that rock was Christ!” (1 Corinthians 10:4).
The real Rock was something they kept overlooking – the Savior Himself. They missed the real lessons God was trying to teach them.
Think about this for a moment. Why did the Lord lead them through this hard wilderness in the first place? Surely He could have made it so much easier for them, right? Surely, with the same miraculous power He used at the Red Sea, He could have immediately transported them to the promised land.
He could have taken them by the shorter route along the Sea. The Bible says God did not do this, for Israel would have lost heart in the face of fierce enemies on that route. But surely God could have knocked over those enemies like bowling pins.
Instead, God leads them through narrow and rocky passes, through hot and difficult places. He makes them suffer hunger, thirst and fatigue. Why? Why does God make the journey so hard?
You and I ask that too, don’t we? Why does life have to be such a struggle some days? Why doesn’t this God, who has saved us by the bloody cross and empty grave of His Son, just pave our path with flower petals and let the peace of paradise descend upon us?
The apostles of our Lord answered that. They said, “We must go through many troubles on our way to the kingdom of God.”
The “pilgrim’s progress” of the Christian is not always a way by which God leads us out of pain, disappointment and hardships. He often has and often does. By His mercy we have dodged many a bullet. But in the end, God does provide a way through the hardships and heartaches of this life’s wilderness into the promised land of His kingdom.
We too often treat God and His Church with a consumer spirit: “If God performs satisfactorily, then He will get my worship. If He seems distant and does not give me what I want – then I will stay home on Sunday mornings in protest.”
We stand, each one of us, at a crossroads, pondering whether to walk away in bitterness or to step forward in faith –– trusting that God will refresh us on the way – with waters of life in the wilderness – leading us all the way home.