Wilderness. Chairman’s letter. Jonathan Hartfield. 24.03.2020 .
Today all our school children will stay at home and tomorrow many of our shops will close their doors. As the season of Lent draws to a close we enter a wilderness. Some people are used to giving up small luxuries for Lent but this year it has coincided with major changes in our lives which will likely extend beyond Lent’s 40 days. We haven’t chosen to enter this wilderness but we have been driven there by a minute speck of protein that chooses to destroy its host rather than live amicably with it.
Wilderness’ are both geographical locations as well as life experiences. They are dangerous places where we become aware of our own vulnerability. They are places where we are often alone and desolate. However, these very attitudes can help us to sharpen our appreciation of other people and other places, as well as confirming our total dependence upon God. Therefore, it is hardly surprising that wilderness’ stories occur so often in our Bibles.
The first of these is about Hagar and her son Ismael who are driven into the desert by Sarah, Hagar’s snobbish and vindictive mistress. It begins as a story of anguish, danger and grief, but ends with God seeing their plight and Hagar accepting and benefiting from His guidance. Both she and her son adapted to the wilderness and successfully made it their home. They did not return to Abraham’s household. Genesis. 16. 6 – 11. 21. 9 – 21.
The big wilderness story is The Israelites 40-year wander, where they do not acquit themselves all that well. They grumble, refuse to adapt to their new circumstances, and lack trust in God and His appointed leader. However, they do eventually reach the promised land.
It is no surprise that John the Baptist lived in the wilderness and Jesus was led there by the Spirit after his baptism. Matthew 4. 1. The wilderness is a place for reflection and change, terror and triumph, and it proved to be the place where Jesus confirmed who He was, as well as laying down the principles of his ministry.
So here we are as a nation entering a wilderness time which will test our way of life and reveal what is of real importance to us.
Although the Share Markets collapsed at the first whiff of the desert breeze, our Churches began to develop plans for sustaining and caring for their communities. The consumer ethic that is destroying so much of our planet is in abeyance, and although our supermarket behaviour is revealing the selfish individualism of some people, we are spending up on toilet rolls and rice, and presumably spending less on Lotto, alcohol and other non-essentials.
Governments are also spending differently and more positively, and much more is being spent on the population as a whole. Jacinda Ardern and her team are leading with efficiency, clarity and kindness.
It is noticeable that armaments are of no use in the present situation. The civilian skills of our armed forces may prove very useful over the next few months, but their weapons are of no help at all. The crumbling National Health Service in Britain has lost out on the trillions spent on renewing the Trident submarine whose expensive world cruises will not help a single Covid 19 sufferer in the UK nor anywhere else in the world.
In the international fight against this dangerous virus, military weapons have become redundant, and the more belligerent and nationalistic presidents are mis-leading their nations towards disaster.
So this virus drives us into a wilderness experience which we do not want. An experience that will change and test us all. We may find it a difficult and frightening journey as we discover how we adapt to it, and how we relate to other people in these difficult circumstances, and how we manage the grief It may bring to us. The desert is a place where our priorities in life are tested, so it is also a place of growth and learning. God would have us meet Him there.
‘The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad, the desert shall rejoice and blossom;
Say to those of a fearful heart, Be strong, fear not; behold your God’. Isaiah 35. 1.4.