Thursday, October 8, 2009

They shall not enter my rest

Moses said to the LORD, "Why have you dealt ill with your servant? And why have I not found favor in your sight, that you lay the burden of all this people on me? Did I conceive all this people? Did I give them birth, that you should say to me, 'Carry them in your bosom, as a nurse carries a nursing child,' to the land that you swore to give their fathers? Where am I to get meat to give to all this people? For they weep before me and say, 'Give us meat, that we may eat.' I am not able to carry all this people alone; the burden is too heavy for me. If you will treat me like this, kill me at once, if I find favor in your sight, that I may not see my wretchedness."
“The story of Moses always breaks my heart,” I remember explaining to a friend across the table at a coffee shop. “He clearly had never wanted to lead the people in the first place, but had led them anyway when God called him. He had a miserable time with it. The people were constantly wanting to stone him, and their stubbornness added another 40 years to the journey. During that time God decides he’s going to wipe out the people, and it is Moses who wrestles with him and convinces him not to wipe them out. And after all that, at some point, God tells Moses to speak to a rock and he hits it instead, and then God won’t let him into the Promised Land. Seems like God’s pretty mean.”

“No,” my friend struggled, seemingly unsure of how he knew this, “God’s not mean. Something else is going on there.”

“Seems pretty mean to me,” I persisted. “And I’m no Moses... if this is what a man like Moses can expect after 80 years of serving God, what do we have to look forward to?”

My friend looked at me sadly, unsure of how to speak words of Grace into the world as I saw it.

“I mean,” I continued when he had nothing to add, “he keeps leading the ‘stiff-necked’ people after God tells him he won’t get to enter the Promised Land, and then sits on a mountain at the edge of Canaan begging God to change his mind. But God had some point he needed to make about Moses not showing his name as holy before the people or some ambiguous thing like that. For whatever reason, that was worth more to God than letting Moses enter the Promised Land.”

I concluded strongly, as if I dared him to suggest redemption in a story like that.

“Em,” my friend finally interjected, “Moses did enter the Promised Land.”

I looked stupidly at him, wondering which Bible he had read.

“He did,” he insisted. “At the Transfiguration. Jesus was there with Moses and Elijah. Moses was there.”

I sat there dumbfounded. Truth be told, I was halfway scandalized. My friend was right. My most bleak, grim, hated Bible story had suddenly been tainted with Grace, and my standard extreme-situation trump card had been trumped. While Moses had been cheated out of the Promised Land because of some ambiguous punishment, the Punishment had been cheated out of Moses when Christ came.

And I don’t know why that conversation is coming back to me this week, except that I am being reminded that as much as pain is deeper than the airy, ephemeral sentiments that Christians often confuse with hope, Grace is deeper than the pain.

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