Change is hard. As humans we like things to be consistent and predictable. We like to have a sense of control and autonomy in the world. Seasons of change can be challenging because we are confronted with a lack of control and live in the stress of the unknown. When we are young we vaguely think that at some point we will “have it all figured out” and will be on a clear life path that will remain steady. That may be the case for some, but most of us will continue to encounter change and turning points throughout the life span. Numbers, one of my favorite books of the Bible, speaks beautifully to the experience of living in transition and what it looks like to be shaped by God in those seasons.
The book follows the people of Israel on their journey between slavery in Egypt and establishment in the land of Israel. It’s a book about a people living in the discomfort of change and uncertainty. They are no longer slaves but they don’t know what it means to be free. Their shared history with God is also still quite limited so they are getting to know God in new ways and trying to learn what it means to follow Yahweh. God has miraculously led them out of Egypt, demonstrating that He is a God of the whole world and more powerful than other any other God. God also demonstrates that He is a God of unconditional rescue. They didn’t have to do anything for God to save them, they just had to walk through that dry ground in the Red Sea and carry all the gold and riches that God moved the Egyptians to give them. They had a powerful God, they had start-up cash for their new land, and they were free.
But throughout Numbers we watch the people struggle with trusting God rather than themselves. They are accustomed to their routines and their familiar life in Egypt. They didn’t yet know how to be a free people following a trustworthy God. So they complained and rebelled and continually looked back to Egypt as their frame of reference for normalcy. Even though in Egypt they were slaves who were treated ruthlessly by the Egyptians, they frequently viewed it as the good old days. When they finally did reach the edge of the Promised Land, they wavered on the banks of the Jordan River. The land is very good just liked God promised, but they weren’t confident that God really could clear the way for them to possess it. They were terrified by the current inhabitants and become convinced that they’re better off going back to Egypt than crossing the river into the unknown (Numbers 13-14).
This seems ridiculous, why on earth would you want to journey all the way back to the country that enslaved you for centuries? Because it was comfortable. Because it was familiar. Because even a return to slavery made them feel more in control than trusting God in the unknown. We may feel tempted to judge them, but this remains the universal human challenge and is the symbol of our struggle with sin and brokenness. It’s what we know, and so it is what is comfortable even if it’s misery. We can go through the same cycles of trust and distrust. God proves Himself to be wonderful and loving and powerful and we get all excited and convinced that God is good. Then something happens that sets off our insecurities and fears and we go right back to old behaviors and sins to try to make ourselves feel better.
Because this is the lie of sin: it makes us think we’re in the control, while in reality we become slaves. We start out using it to meet our needs and to help us get what we want, from pornography to sexual activity, to food and our physical appearance, to seeking approval from others, to wearing ourselves out trying to get the perfect grades or performance reviews. All of those things give us a sense of mastery and comfort, until they start to control us and we don’t know how to get through the day without them. During seasons of transition these destructive tendencies can come to the surface more than usual. When we are fearful we cling much harder to anything that makes us feel secure, including our sin. That means that we can either fall deeper into slavery, or receive the opportunity to walk away from our bondage.
It can be scary, but this is the invitation the God offers to us during transitions. Do we believe that what God has for us on the other side of the river is better than what we can yet imagine? The best thing that the Israelites could picture was being back in slavery because it was all they knew, and that gave them the illusion of control. God was asking them and us to believe that following a God that we can’t control but who wants to lead us into freedom and new life is better than remaining a slave to what we know. I think C.S. Lewis puts it beautifully in the book The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe. When the children ask if the metaphorical Jesus character is safe, and they’re told “Of course he’s not safe, but he’s good.” Are you willing to step into places in your relationship with God where you’re not in control and you’re inviting Him to work in your life to free you in ways you can’t predict? Are you ready to believe that He’s a God of unconditional rescue who will clear the way for you and you just have to walk and carry the gifts He’ll give you?
The Lord may be inviting you take some steps onto that dry ground and see what He opens up for you. Especially if you’re feeling the anxiety of change and uncertainty, embrace it as an opportunity for Jesus to lead you and shape you. Start in prayer for God to give you courage and hope that the way things are in your life doesn’t have the be the way they remain. Ask God to give you imagination for what else could be possible, and faith that even if it’s scary and uncomfortable and not safe, that it can be very good.