The Land of the Unknown
I began drafting this article months ago. I edited it a few weeks ago. Now, I realize it is timely as we all wrestle with unknowns of confinement, a mysterious and seemingly powerful illness, and unpredictable cultural and economic impacts once we emerge. Think with me about these issues in light of COVID-19, and in light of coming face to face with the realities of human limitations.
Curiosity leads us to ask many questions in life. We ask for all kinds of details, about our own lives and each other’s. We ask because we want to understand more. We ask because we want to live vicariously through others’ experiences, or even just empathize with them more fully. We ask because, as the old commercial used to say, “inquiring minds want to know.”
Some questions are innocuous, with no hidden agenda. We ask when a meal will be ready, how a spouse’s day went, or what a child did at school. Some questions may thinly veil a self-serving motive, like when we want the details of another person’s failures and faults.
And some questions reveal much more.
Job asked questions of God that I think most of us would ask: why, God, after a lifetime of serving You faithfully, would You allow me to suffer so much?
The interesting part of the story of Job in the Old Testament is not what Job asked, but the way God responded. God never answered Job’s question of why. He simply pointed to Himself and His supreme wisdom and power, and basically invited Job to compare himself to God.
I am in control, God seemed to say; not you.
Ow. That is not my favorite thing to hear from God. And I should know. I’ve heard it a few times.
The most dangerous times to ask “why” is when we are asking it as a pre-requisite for our obedience. At times God has asked me to do something, but I needed to know why – especially if obedience would cost me time, money, or other resources that I could have found use for elsewhere.
Sometimes, I hear people say that they believe God has led them to do something, to take some step of faith. But they do not know where it will lead, and until they know, they do not want to put one foot out in front of the other.
God usually does not tell us where a particular path will lead. We know that there will be streams of living water (Psalm 23), but we do not know where those streams will be or what kind of desert or hill country they will cut through. We know that we are assured of God’s presence when we follow His leading, but we are not assured that the journey will be easy or free of obstacles. And we are often not read-in on the overall objective of the mission or given the destination prior to arrival.
God called Abram to leave his home and his family, and go “to the land I will show you” (Gen. 12:1, NIV). God promised blessing beyond imagination (verses 2 and 3), but did not name the land to which he was sending Abram. Given that the Bible is a selected history – not every detail of every minute is described – we might assume that there was some additional conversation between God and Abram that we do not read about in the passage. I believe the Spirit inspired the writing of the Bible, so what we have is what we need … and what we have is a jump from “leave and go … and I promise you …” to verse 4: “So Abram went, as the Lord had told him….” Abram trusted and obeyed. And literally stepped out of his home and all that was familiar.
The familiar has a strong pull, like a magnet or a black hole. Don Everts wrote a little book called Jesus with Dirty Feet that explains what it really means to follow Jesus.* Mr. Everts writes of Jesus’s first calls to humans, an invitation to follow him, and of their response of “dropping familiar nets” (page 15). Those words linger with me. Familiar nets are comfortable: we know how to use them, where they are best used, how to clean and store them, how to maximize their potential. We have learned how to control these, to some degree. But God seldom calls us to remain comfortable. He leads instead to a land he will show us.
We find ourselves now without familiar nets. We are making up life, and church, and education, and work, as we go. Could it be that God has a new land for us? Is the Spirit calling us to come follow Him, to a new journey, to make our “home” (be that with family or our faith community) anew? I do not believe that God has taken away our familiar nets, but now that we have had to lay them down, on to what adventure is He leading us?
Maybe God has been speaking to you for a while, nudging you to embark on something new. Have you hesitated in order to “figure out the plan” or identify the reason or destination? If so, you might be waiting a long time … and miss out on the blessings that are only found in the obedience that takes us to the land God will show us. Let’s take this opportunity, to ask the Spirit of God to place new tools within our now-empty hands and new steps before our now-paused feet.
Calling and fulfilling calling is a process. We must do as Abram did, and go. God will show us the land He has for us.
*This article referenced the book Jesus with Dirty Feet: A Down-to-Earth Look at Christianity for the Curious & Skeptical by Don Everts (IVP Books, 1999).