The Modern Pilgrim # 15- Pilgrim is lost in a dense forest.
When we all started this whole coronavirus deal weeks ago, none of us imagined an annoying woodland of scrub trees (easy to cut down) might grow into a hardwood forest. This thing is huge. Historical. Job loss and financial setbacks. Family separations, Closed businesses. Heated arguments about how to defeat it. All of it seemed to go from seedlings to forest in such a short time. I tend to think in metaphors and this pandemic is presenting itself to me as such.
Many of us feel disoriented in our circumstances and there seems to be no clear path back to normal. This forest metaphor created itself when new restrictions rolled out in my state recently. The revised guidelines left many of us scratching our heads, paralyzed and uncertain about what we are and are not allowed to do. What we can buy. Where we can go. We are lost in a hardwood forest of new rules and we don’t know how to get out.
When I cruised my memory banks for Bible stories and verses about woodlands, I couldn’t think of any except a couple Psalms. I don’t think about Bible stories being set in forests, do you? I picture them in the desert or mountains. When I searched the Bible for forests, I found interesting verses. I also found encouragement and warning from two stories.
1.Whenever the Lord places us within a certain land, he gives us the power to occupy it fully.
In Joshua 17:14-18, the descendants of Joseph, the tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh, argued with Joshua about their allotted parcel in the promised land. They claimed to be much too “numerous and powerful,” to settle for a small allotment. Joshua’s reply is wonderfully wise. “And if the hill country of Ephraim is too small for you, go up into the forest and clear land for yourselves there in the land of the Perizzites and Rephaites.”
Turns out these folks didn’t possess hearts like Caleb’s, willing to fight and take possession of any land given to them. They might have been mighty in number, but they were weak of character. Their response reveals this. “All the Canaanites have chariots fitted with iron.” Sounds a lot like, “But the land is filled with giants,” doesn’t it?
Joshua masterfully turns their words around into a charge to them. “You are numerous and very powerful. You will have not only one allotment18 but the forested hill country as well. Clear it, and its farthest limits will be yours; though the Canaanites have chariots fitted with iron and though they are strong, you can drive them out.”
Joshua’s charge reminds me of something he says to Israel later. “One of you routs a thousand, because the Lord your God fights for you, just as he promised. Joshua 23:10. As a child of God, I know he fights for me. And I fight alongside him and the host of heaven, no matter how dark my forest is.
No matter how powerful my enemy’s forces of virus and sickness. God’s army is greater.
No matter how heavy the canopy of cultural mood and conversation over me that blocks out the sun sometimes. God’s light pierces through.
No matter how tough the hardwoods of current restrictions and rules. God empowers me to transform my forest into a livable place to thrive.
Secondly, I found this cautionary tale about Solomon and a forest.
2. I must be careful that what I build in my forest honors God more than myself.
In I Kings 7, Solomon has finished the temple of God and builds a magnificent palace for himself. He uses so many cedars, it is named “The Palace of the Forest of Lebanon.” Its splendor is detailed in this chapter, but there’s a problem. When you compare the details and wealth invested in the temple compared to Solomon’s new home, the temple pales by comparison.
David Guzik says it well in his commentary, “At the end of the detailed description of Solomon’s palace, the writer mentioned that some of the great architectural features of the palace were also used in the house of the Lord. We are left with the idea that as great as the temple was, Solomon’s palace was greater.”
I need to watch how I speak of my time in the Forest of Coronavirus, in the years to come. Instead of “I did this, and I did that,” dominating my stories, how will I describe what God did during this time? Yes, of course we all need to tell the survival stories of courage and creativity from this time. But how we frame and build our accounts will either draw attention to our own ingenuity and strength or will bring glory to God. We Americans, we pull-ourselves-up-by-the-bootstraps-carve-a civilization- out-of-wilderness folk, need to be mindful of this.
This coronavirus forest I’m in is another opportunity for God to work things in and out of me, just like the swamp and the mountain. (See previous posts about these further down this page.) I don’t want to be like the whiney descendants of Joseph, always looking for the easy land to take. I don’t want to toot my horns more than God’s, like Solomon.
God will lead me out of this forest. Meanwhile, in God’s strength, I’m going to conquer it while I live here. I’m not going to fear its shadows and the thickness and strength of its trees. Afterwards, I’ll write new stories about the wondrous ways God showed up and made it a place of strength and productivity for me. I plan on writing myself as a secondary character and God as the hero.
You are writing a Coronavirus forest story too. What will you tell others about God’s provisions and power toward you in these days? Are you noticing how he’s working all around you in your forest? Who will be cast as the hero in your story?