The wilderness is where you go when struggling in life. Setting out into lonely, deserted places is what we do when struggling with faith, with life in general, and with grief in particular. It is where we go to cry, to shout, to get lost, and to search for answers.
After hearing about John the Baptist’s death, Jesus sets out for the wilderness. Getting into a boat by himself, he rows toward a deserted place with the memories of his friend…his earthly mentor…on his mind. He rows across the lake to a deserted place to have time to think.
When a close friend of mine discovered that his wife was cheating on him, he set out for the woods; for the wilderness. When my grandma discovered that she had cancer, she closed herself away in her room; the wilderness. And, when I discovered that I would be the only one left with the memories of fishing out on the lake with my grandfather, such as the time the fish spit my hook out and the combined force of the spit and my tugging sent the lure sailing dangerously close to giving my grandfather a pierced lip, I took a long walk in to nowhere in particular; the wilderness.
Lots of people search for answers in the wilderness. Perhaps, that is why when Jesus gets ashore he finds in his deserted wilderness 5000 men plus women and children wandering around and searching also. The wilderness is sometimes a popular place. Perhaps it is because in the wilderness we are certain that we will get our answers. We have a good reason to think this also. God wrestles Jacob in the wilderness and God gives him a blessing. God feeds the Israelites manna in the wilderness. Jesus is tested and given a purpose in life while in the wilderness. And the five thousand plus will also have their hunger satisfied.
Jesus, God on earth, sees their need and hears their cries. He shares healing and hope and feeds everyone with bread and fish. Everyone who wandered into the wilderness was filled. No one walked away without being filled.
The world normally assumes that God is present most, and at work the most, when great things in life are happening. There are preachers who live and breathe this type of understanding of God. They fly into deserted, hungry places with their helicopters, proclaim that if only people believed hard enough they too would have a great and rich life, and then they fly out again like angels who have found the good life. They teach that God is found in the great things. But, I find it interesting that the people of those deserted villages are provided actual food and given knowledge of how to farm not by these preachers, but by actual people who are willing to come into the wilderness, live there with the people, struggle there with the people, and discover God there with the people. The helicopter preachers have discovered the great and powerful god of wealth. The villagers have found the true and humble God of the wilderness. The true God sends people to live among them, struggle with them, and show grace to them.
God does not require big things to be present. God is always present in the little things. God is found in the deserted places, where we cannot depend on ourselves, and we need to trust. God is most present when we struggle and find ourselves in the wilderness. God’s love was found on the cross, the most deserted place of them all. Do you feel lost? Do you feel hurt? Are you lonely? Are you in the wilderness? You could not possibly be closer to God and God’s love.