The idea that God tests us is nothing more than a fallacy used for centuries to explain why horrible things happen. The truth is that human existence is challenging, in fact it is probably more challenging than it needs to be because our desire to be in control at all times puts us in conflict with the purpose for our existence, which is to both be in relationship with God and be the tools through which God builds their kingdom.
In Exodus we hear that Pharaoh is holding the Hebrews in bondage, why? Because he can. He is powerful, and he needs their labor. Pharoah is an external force keeping the Hebrew people from achieving their purpose. Moses is the willing servant of God, through which God frees the Hebrew people. This story shows us that with God’s help we can overcome the external pressures that distract us from our calling.
In his first letter to the Church at Corinth, Paul is not calling us out for the specific behaviors listed in his letter, he is pointing out that some of the people in Corinth are more concerned with the things they want to do than the things God asks of them. Luke is focusing on the very same thing, just from a slightly different perspective. The parable of the fig tree is about our need to be patient in the cultivation of our faith as we move away from the things that distract us from God. The fig tree represents our faith, the gardener is God the Holy Spirit, and we are the man who planted the tree. How often do we become impatient because we can’t detect God in our lives? How often have we been asked where we see God in our lives or in a major event and then have no answer? How often have we been faced with a painful or hard situation and then feel as though God is not there? I am sure that we have all had these experiences as seeing God, experiencing God, and believing God to be present are all difficult when we are trapped in the pattern of human selfishness and desire for control, a part of which is hiding our insecurities and not admitting that we don’t know what we are doing.
Pharaoh was blinded by his desire to be in control of others, the Corinthians were blinded by their desire for pleasure, the planter of the fig tree wanted immediate satisfaction and thought that just because he had planted the tree, he didn’t need to tend it. How many of us are like the planter? Having faith, but because our relationship with God isn’t bearing fruit, we toss it aside, unwilling to give it another thought. A life rooted in God is hard; it requires dedication and practice, but it is worth it. It is worth it because when the world begins to fall apart, and we turn inward with the desire to preserve ourselves and those whom we love we need to know where the line is so that we don’t cross it. Which is the whole point, it’s the whole point of our existence, it is the reason Jesus came to walk among us, it is the reason the bible was written. God is always with us and in us and among us; they are always, through the Holy Spirit, guiding us closer to God and one another with the goal of restoring the balance of creation; but because we don’t work on our spiritual life we easily and quickly become like pharaoh and forget about God.
We are never more aware of our inability to experience God than when we feel helpless. The Hebrews felt helpless under the weight of their enslavement in Egypt and even though God had in no way abandoned them, they could not see how God was attempting to reach them and lead them to safety; so, God send Moses and through Moses brought about change. Fast forward a few thousand years and we have a similar situation. The Israelites are under the control of Rome, and they once again cannot see a way out. Then this poor kid from a backwater village enters the scene and after three years of being a thorn in the side of everyone in charge the path out is made about as clear as mud, but at least there is a path. A path that we are all capable of following if we choose to; but doing so requires effort; it requires patience; it requires repentance; and it requires a willingness to let go of some things, but what those things are is different for all of us.
I have been glued to the news regarding the war in Ukraine and as I watch the horror of war unfold before my eyes, I am grateful that I live on this side of NATO because it is that alliance that keeps us safe. Do I wish NATO would do more? Absolutely! I want NATO to pound the Kremlin into the ground or at least slap some handcuffs on Vladimir Putin, but the reality of it all is that the world is far more complicated than that and bombing the Kremlin with the goal of killing Vladimir Putin is the opposite of what God desires. Of course, it is easy for me to side with God on this one because I am not the one who gets to make the decision. Putin is a Pharaoh, he is only interested in controlling people and ensuring his legacy, he is not interested in God or God’s plans and because of that he is instigating and allowing horrible things to happen. The truth of this entire situation is that his world view and his actions are both something that we are all capable of, which I find horrifying. If you are like my students, you are already thinking that there is no way you could ever be like Vladimir Putin, but I challenge to think again because while none of us have ever started a war, we have all done things at the expense of others.
My point is this, we are all capable of doing horrible things and we are all capable of justifying those actions to ourselves and others. War, hunger, greed, racism, poverty, and every other injustice we could name exists for one reason and one reason only, human selfishness. They exist because we like to be in control, we like to be pharaoh. The good news, however, is that there is a path through it all, a path that will lead to the Kingdom of God, which is a place without injustice. The path has been laid before us by Christ Jesus but know that it is not a straight or smooth path; in fact, most of the time it may not even look like a path; but I promise you that it is there and that the journey is worth it. The extra good news is that the only thing God requires is that we deny the pharaoh that is in us all and try to patient like the gardener, taking some time to tend our faith so that we can see God in creation and one another.