March 21, 2019
“Why Would the Spirit Lead Anyoneinto the Wilderness?” – by Dale Edmondson
“And the Spirit immediately drove [Jesus] out into the wilderness.” (Mark 1:12)
Why would the Spirit do that? And why to Jesus? Why to anyone?Yet Mark says that’s what happened: the Spirit drove Jesus to spend 40 days in the desert wrestling with temptations to take self-serving shortcuts for his emerging ministry. Strange, because Jesus was later to teach his disciples to pray that they not be led into temptation.
How did Mark (and Matthew) come to that conclusion? They hadn’t been in the wilderness to observe what happened. And, even if they had been, how could they have seen the Spirit’s action? Their assertion is clearly a “faith-statement”—a conclusion based on reflection after the fact. Wouldn’t the disciples have heard Jesus tell about the forty days he spent there; about his internal battle; and about the clarification of purpose and receipt of energy that resulted? He had emerged stronger and with tested integrity. How else could the early Christians explain what had happened ? Surely, they concluded, God had been in it! Couldn’t they say, looking back, the Spirit was present?
The wilderness is not unknown to us. Don’t we, all of us, experience the wilderness at one time or another? Don’t all of us have times when our support systems seem to be down, when we’re thrown entirely on our own, when existence is lonely and we begin to wonder whether our good goals might be reached more easily if we proceed down the path of compromise? Indeed, haven’t some of the saints of the past spoken of a “dark night of the soul”? Wilderness is a common experience. No question. But to say God has led us there? Don’t circumstances, unforseen tragedies, our own changing moods, perhaps even our hormones, have something to do with being there? I suggest that the trials and tests which come to us can’t, in themselves, rightly be judged as the acts of God. They’re just part of life.
Yet, aren’t there times when we move through a wildernesses and embrace it and come out strengthened? Then, in such circumstances, might we not say, “God was in it, God led me there.” Not as a dogmatic fact, but as an experiential reality. Faith that sustains us is sometimes a “retrospective faith.” We look back, and out of our response in the struggle, say God was there. Someone I’ve come to know has said, “Each year at Lent we are invited to enter the desert, to embrace solitude and silence, to fast, to open ourselves to suffering, to listen for the voice of God in our restless spirits.”