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Faith for the Wilderness: A Christian Perspective


The Garden

Every people at every time have asked the question, “how did evil come into our world?”

I spent one summer reading about serial killers trying to figure out the common cause of such evil. I could only conclude that there definitely are people with absolutely no conscience -- evil resides in people.

It should come as no surprise that the ancient people of Israel would ask the question too, and tell this story Genesis 2:15-17; 3:1-7 that basically comes to the same conclusion.

We find the first humans in a perfect garden. They have perfect freedom of will, freedom to worship God, freedom to tend the garden, freedom to enjoy the fruits of creation. There is just one rule: don’t eat of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. One measly rule in this incredibly perfect life.

They broke that one rule. They exploited the garden for their own use, and humans have been exploiting the Garden ever since.

And the result in this ancient story which has such poignant resonance with us today, living in the wasteland of a perpetually exploited garden? Humans ended up in a wilderness instead of a garden.

The Wilderness

Jesus knows the wilderness. He was born into it; he grew up in it -- in a dreary little village in the middle of nowhere. And when he became an adult, he went even further into the wilderness, fasting for forty days and nights. Matthew 4.1-11 Not fasting during the day and then gathering with family to eat thankfully after the sun sets. No, this was starvation. When he was tempted, there were only stones to be transformed into bread.

Jesus went to the wilderness and toward temptation and redeemed the wilderness by resisting temptation.

  • By refusing to turn stones into bread for himself, Jesus resisted the temptation to use power for selfish reasons. He might have fed five thousand, but he did not feed himself.
  • By refusing to jump from the pinnacle of the city onto the rocks, Jesus resisted the temptation to gain popularity by performance, to test.
  • By refusing to bow down and worship a false god, Jesus resisted the temptation to take power over the whole world.

And in this moment, Jesus does give us faith for the wilderness -- resistant to evil, responsive to the needs of others rather than our own, obedient to the will of God. This is a resilient faith for the wilderness.

Yearning to go Back to the Garden

We want to live in the garden -- it’s a primal urge since we were created to live in that blissful state. But evil persists, and we waste time looking in the wrong places for the security of the garden

  • We fear evil;
  • We avoid evil in the world;
  • We have an incredible ability to deny our own sinfulness.

Fearing, avoiding, denying evil in the world or in ourselves is not going to get us back to the garden. Resisting temptation will.

What is it about your identity as a Christian that you are called to protect?

Jesus made it clear who he was in resisting temptation. He doesn’t suggest this will be easy, this wilderness faith; he challenges us to make our Christian identity primary.

Don’t ask yourself what you can give up this Lent.

Ask instead,

“What can I do, or stop doing that will protect who I am in God’s eyes?”

Are you too busy to guarantee presence with others in worship because your job/relationship/life is too busy? That weakens God’s vision of humans being faithful in community.

What will get your children or loved one through your death? Even though they may not have followed your faith journey, in death it may be your faith that they look to for hope and endurance.

Don’t let your faith be distorted and weakened by the world.

Being faithful in the wilderness is a lot different than being faithful in the garden.What we need in order to have a resilient faith, is Jesus.

A Back-to-the-Future Garden

Jesus points back to the garden -- to the abundance, to hope, to the death of evil and to the death of death itself. My way, he promises, is a way back to the garden, the garden that is

  • God’s vision for humanity;
  • the will of God on earth and heaven;
  • people relating to one another with the love God has for creation;

All of his teachings open us to a faith that will create a spiritual garden for us and others.

And meanwhile, despite the fact that we live in a wilderness of our own making, we have been offered in Christ

  • a faith that is full of hope in the face of devastation;
  • a faith that offers us glimpses of the luxurious garden of God’s will;
  • an abundant faith that brings pleasure.