My family and I recently spent some time in the desert mountains of Arizona, where we have a family member who owns a cabin on 40 acres. It’s one of my favorite places to go, not only because it is beautiful, but because it’s so quiet and peaceful. It’s amazing what not having cell phone service for a few days can do for your soul.
I was sitting on the porch looking out at the rocky hills as my dog chased bunnies to no avail when I had this thought, “The desert is beautiful.” That thought seemed strange to me because, I don’t know about you, but I don’t usually think of the desert when I think of a beautiful place. I think of some tropical islands like Hawaii, a place that is always green and is full of water and life.
Even though the desert may not be rich with all of those things, there is a unique beauty. Isn’t this also true in our spiritual lives as well? We have seasons that often feel dry, lonely, and fearful; seasons where we are just trying to survive. It’s a kind of “wilderness” experience. If there is beauty in the physical wilderness, can’t there be beauty in an emotional or spiritual wilderness as well? The answer is yes.
But I have to ask myself, why don’t I see beauty and value in the wilderness as quickly as I see it in other places? I think the answer is found in the beginning. Genesis 2:8–9 (ESV) says, “And the Lord God planted a garden in Eden, in the east, and there he put the man whom he had formed. And out of the ground the Lord God made to spring up every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food. The tree of life was in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.” According to the biblical creation account, God created humanity for the garden, not for the wilderness.
Adam lived in a paradise with his bride Eve. It was a place with every kind of tree and animal, a place full of life. The tree of life was there in the middle of it all. It was there that Adam and Eve were able to live together naked and exposed yet without any shame, not just a physical paradise but a relational paradise. And not only that, but the Lord walked with Adam in the cool of the day, so I see it as a spiritual paradise as well.
All of these things came natural and easy, unlike a wilderness. We don’t usually see a lot of beauty in a time of wilderness because we were created for the garden, so we want to live in an emotional paradise. A place where everything works the way it’s supposed to without us having to try. Unfortunately, that’s not our reality. Next to that tree of life was another tree. You see, it wasn’t enough for us to live in the garden; we wanted to rule the garden. The temptation to “be like God,” as the serpent put it to Eve, was too great to resist, and so we rebelled and, in doing so, ultimately rejected the paradise we were created for.
Ever since that time, we have been living in a kind of wilderness, a place far from perfection. A place where we are just trying to survive, chasing bunnies that we will never catch. However, if you look closely, you can see that even though your wilderness is not a garden, we can find beauty by the grace of our Lord and Savior.
I love how it is written in Romans 5:1–5 (ESV) “Therefore since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him, we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” We can rejoice in our suffering! What a weird statement, kind of like saying “Hey, the desert is beautiful!”
When God kicked Adam and Eve out of the garden, he didn’t do it as some child kicking out an annoying little brother from their room. He did it as a loving father disciplines his child. He did it not out of spite but with a plan for redemption, and what blows my mind is that it’s the wilderness that he uses to bring us back to the garden.
Whatever your “wilderness” is, know that it’s a result of sin, of us trying to be the god of our paradise, whether it’s your sin or the sin of someone else, the result is the same. The Israelites were in bondage in Egypt, like we are slaves to sin, but when they cried out to God, he rescued them, set them free. When we cry out to God in repentance; he is faithful to forgive us, to set us free. God provided for them a land that he had promised long ago, a land flowing with milk and honey, a kind of paradise, but to get there, they had to first go through the wilderness. It was the wilderness that prepared them for the land of paradise. There they learned to put their hope in God, where they learned to follow his law, and where the idols they worshiped died.
The same is true for us. Life is often a wilderness, even after we put our hope in Christ Jesus for forgiveness; but don’t despise the wilderness because God, in His sovereignty, uses that wilderness to prepare you for the place that he promised long ago.
Trevor Rickard is an Associate Pastor at New Life Christian Fellowship.