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Saturday, January 17, 2009

On Spiritual Wilderness

Written: January 17, 2009 (12:30pm)--Senior Theology Retreat, Sacred Heart Cathedral, Winona, MN.

Question: How does the use of "wilderness" in the Bible speak to me spiritually?

As I'm sitting in the church in silent prayer, one of my favorite verses keeps coming to mind--Hosea 2:16. In this part of the book, God is condemning and punishing Israel for her crimes, saying that He will take all away from her. However, 2:16 reads "So I will allure her; I will lead her into the desert (wilderness) and speak to her heart". From there it goes on to say how God will restore and renew Israel. This caused me to ponder...what exactly is "wilderness" in a spiritual sense. Consider the following series of verses:

Matthew 4:1-11
Luke 5:1-11
Matthew 14:22-33
John 21

In a metaphorical sense, the wilderness is in some sense, a form of abandonment from God. God in some way is not present to us. Also, it is an area of extreme discomfort or suffering. Many would call this a "Dark Night", however, I believe that is only one form that the wilderness may take. This is shown in the Bible by the "desert" (desolate, empty), and by the "ocean" (chaotic, unknown, uncomfortable).

Now...using these verses I came up with a 4 stage development concerning "wilderness":
1) God calls us to the wilderness and renews us (Hosea 2:16)
2) This calling requires Trust (Lk 5:1-11, Mt 14:22-33, Jn 21)
3) After calling/renewal, we recognize God (Mt 14:22-33)
4) Have been called, renewed, and recognized God...we are sent (Lk 5:1-11, Jn 21)

Let me now make my case:
1) God renews us in the wilderness. When we enter a "wilderness" (suffering, abandonment, ect.) we are there for a reason--because God has called us there. By entering the wilderness we feel alone and in some way suffer, but, because God does not allow for any suffering without a purpose, this wilderness eventually "renews" us, and we are restored to a better state.

2) While in this wilderness, we must have trust that God will deliver us. Some examples of this are the disciples casting out their nets even when they had failed previously (Lk 5, Jn 21) and Peter trusting the Lord as he walked on water (Mt 14). We must trust that what God brings us to experience also brings us to fulfillment.

3) After being renewed, and realizing that we have been called to this wilderness, we recognize God in it. Examples of this are the disciples recognizing Jesus after following His command to cast out their nets (Jn 21) and the disciples recognizing Him after Peter walked on water (Mt 14).

4) Finally, after hearing the call, being renewed, and recognizing God in our experience, He sends us to evangelize in some way, and better equipped or motivated than before. Examples of this are Jesus' temptation in the desert (after which we began his ministry and the "Sermon on the Mount") (Mt 4), the disciples dropping their nets and following Christ (Lk 5), Jesus' command to Peter, "feed my sheep" (Jn 21).

I believe that, though this "formula" is not fully developed, it still gives evidence of a purpose and hope that is present in most any form of suffering or abandonment.