The Holy Wild in Suburbia
In Jesus’ day, when someone wanted to start a movement, he headed into the wilderness. That’s where God was met and where God would speak. Historically, for the children of Israel, that’s where all of God’s movements began. In Jesus’ day, not coincidentally, the wilderness made a good place to start a movement because it was furthest from the officials most likely to squelch the movements.
Jesus went into the wilderness, to the river Jordan, where his cousin was baptizing people, reenacting the Exodus, that original great wilderness moment in the history of God’s people. Then Jesus went to the desert to wrestle with the devil. The children of Israel, freed from the bondage of slavery, followed Moses across the dried sea and into the desert to wander for years (before crossing the Jordan into the promised land).
The Essenes began their particular movement in the wilderness, and they stayed there. (We didn’t find their scrolls until the 20th century.)
Most of the self-styled messianic movements begun before, during, and after Jesus’ day began in the wilderness, and ended there too, typically violently, those self-styled messiahs brought into the city and hung on crosses.
God was in the wilderness. God was God of the wilderness. So if your movement was of God, that’s where you tended to stay.
But not Jesus.
He spent his fair share in the wilderness, to be sure, but when he began calling his community together, he did it in the village and by the seashore. He taught in the synagogues, exercised authority in the Temple. He duked it out with the religious elite (who lived in the cities) and talked with Roman soldiers and went where the heathens were. The God of the wilderness didn’t wait for these folks to seek him in the holy wild; he brought the holy wild into the towns and countrysides.
And when it came time for Jesus’ movement to be “put down,” there wasn’t a violent confrontation in the desert or in the mountains. They found him in a city garden. And they didn’t have to bring him; he himself went of his own accord.
There is an underlying chatter these days about how God cannot be truly heard from and experienced except in the wild. Christianity Today a year or so ago ran an article about how suburban living was not conducive to godly living. Balderdash.
As if the white collar husband and father who faithfully puts in his full day of work at the office without complaining, thankful for the blessing of work and provision for his family, who comes home and loves his wife and children and cares for and raises them in the love and instruction of the Lord is any less of a disciple than the same sort of man who lives with his family on a ranch in Montana. As if the little black grandmother in the ghetto who’s been talking with Jesus since before we were born, who loves her wayward children and grandchildren to tears, who has maintained trust in her God through sickness, poverty, betrayal, family sins, and the criminal threat in her neighborhood is any less of a disciple than the old lady in rural West Virginia who hasn’t misssed church in 20 years.
There is an overlooked beauty to the incarnation, and it is that God went where he wasn’t expected (into the flesh of a man). And God incarnate went where he wasn’t expected either — into the living rooms and dining rooms, the backstreets and alleys, into the public square and the marketplace.
Today, where you are — sitting in your air conditioned computer room at home or “locked” in a cubicle at work or surrounded by cold computer terminals in a musty school library — if you are a lover of Jesus, the God of the wilderess is right there with you. You don’t have to climb a mountain or cross the desert or wade a rushing stream to experience God. Sometimes it can help!, but it’s not necessary and you are no more cut off from God in the suburbs than you would be in the Rockies. It may be harder to hear him or to feel his presence, but he is still there and still speaking.
Jesus left the wilderness and entered the city in part so that people like us could follow him. So that people like us could experience and enjoy the God of the wilderness in our homes and workplaces. And so what is stopping us from reflecting the glory and living the call of the saving God of the wandering children of Israel in our nice neighborhoods and sterile offices? Live incarnationally — be Jesus where you are and to the people you encounter. That’s what Jesus did, after all. He was the Exodus God in the crowded land of the cubicle.
If you think God can’t meet you where you are, you don’t know the God of the wilderess. He is wild, and even the wide wild of the wilderness cannot contain him.
(Originally posted at Thinklings in July 2005.)