We are never really told how Moses felt when God announced to him that he would never enter into the Promised Land, that the Promise was going to be withheld.
After all those years of expectation and frustration.
“Therefore, you will see the land only from a distance; you will not enter the land I am giving to the people of Israel.” (Deut 35:52)
It’s possible that P.G.Wodehouse expressed something of it in the line: ““He had the look of one who had drunk the cup of life and found a dead beetle at the bottom.”
Life, according to Yeats, is “a long preparation for something that never happens.” But isn’t that the way of it for all of us? Aren’t we all rather like Moses? Or the guy with the dead beetle? We never really “arrive,” do we?
It’s part of the deep lie that drives the way we live. The advertising industry, for example, is constructed upon the fallacy that if we only have such-and-such a product we will be complete.
But we never quite reach that Promised Land of Enough.
Nothing is ever enough. Work is disappointing. In spite of all the talk about making work more creative and self-fulfilling, most people hate their jobs, and with good reason. Most work in modern technological societies is intolerably dull and repetitive. The memory of my years on a production line, pressing two buttons in a certain subtle sequence, is ever with me…
Marriage and family life are disappointing. Even among defenders of traditional family values, a certain dreariness must be inferred, if only from the average time of TV viewing. Dreary as TV is, it is evidently not as dreary as the alternative of real conversation.
School is disappointing. If science is exciting and art is exhilarating, the schools and universities have achieved the not inconsiderable feat of rendering both dull. As every scientist and poet knows, one discovers both vocations in spite of, not because of, school. It takes years to recover from the sheer stupor of being taught Shakespeare in Eng Lit. When my wife gushes about the joy of Maths to adult students, that dead-beetle look flashes up, quick as a blink.
Politics is deeply disappointing. Most young people turn their backs on politics, not because of the lack of excitement of politics as it is practised, but because of the shallowness, venality, and image-making. It’s all so… so infantile.
The churches are disappointing, even for most believers. If Christ brings us new life, it is strange that His church, as bearer of this good news, should be among the most dispirited institutions of the age. And the alternative spectacle of TV evangelists with their blown-dry hairdos does not evoke confidence, only that old dead-beetle look of somone encountering yet another snake-oil salesman on the doorstep just when they were about to eat their tea.
Now if all this has even a smidgeon of truth about it, then the Destination Point is not as significant as how you travel.
“All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance.” (Hebrews 11:3)
Distance creates a certain perspective. Many of our problems seem overwhelming, but in time they may be overcome. We may even forget that we once had them! Other problems we have will never be solved in this life. We can dream about them, and hope for them, but never attain them. Moses spent a large part of his life reaching towards the promise of land, home, and safety, but never quite made it. The pilgrims of Hebrews 11 had a vision of something wonderful, but the promise of that perspective was never fulfilled. “All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised.”
Isn’t that the same for us?
In one important -crucial – sense, we have to say: No! The writer to the Hebrews was not expressing how like Moses and the dead-beetle guy we are, but how different! They all looked towards something that never quite happened.
We have a different perspective.
In the person of Jesus, God came near to us. The word “Emmanuel” (which was given in a prophecy for the coming Messiah) meant “God with us.”
This was the point to which the writer to the Hebrews takes us. We are are no longer looking towards something at a distance, but standing upon the threshold of the Arrival Point. We are here, where God is, and where He has acted decisively on our behalf.Once and for all, “It is finished!” The New day has dawned.
And the last words Jesus spoke on earth were “I am with you always…” The Bible clearly teaches that God can be close to us, that we can experience an arrival point, right here in the journeying of our lives.
So how close does God seem to you today?“
The writer acknowledges our condition, but encourages us: “Let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith.” (Hebrews 10:22)
Let us draw near to the One who has drawn near to us! The opposite of disappointment, I suppose, is appointment. And that sense of things being divinely “appointed” affects everything we do. It transforms marriage and family life, for a start. It reinvigorates the most mundane of work tasks into the offering of a “cup of cold water in my name,” (as Jesus put it).
And every job that you do, and evey task you undertake becomes a vocation.
I admit that TV and Politics require an enormous amount of redemption (!), but we are called to go into all the world and to be salt and light there, transforming everything from the inside out, and announcing that despite any appearance to the contrary, “The Kingdom of God is at hand.”
It’s the Jesus Way. It’s Living by Faith from our perspective.
Jesus has broken the power of disapppointment.