The Wilderness

Question: Is there a God?
Fear: There is no God. (Or at least God’s promises are not real.)

This section describes the longest and perhaps most difficult part of our journey of faith. I call it “the struggle.” I don’t mean to suggest that faith is all hardship, but the journey of faith is hard and long and filled with mountains and valleys. For some, I may be stating the obvious, but you would be surprised how many Christians have bought into the idea that faith and church are primarily designed to make them feel happy and good about themselves. There’s actually a technical phrase for this— “Moral Therapeutic Deism.” But, as this chapter introduces, faith is hard. If we are serious about maturing in our faith, then we need to be prepared for an arduous journey.

Sting (the singer, not the sword) once said, “Love is annihilation.” He was actually echoing a strong sentiment in the contemplative tradition that John of the Cross, in particular, wrote about. It’s the idea that for us to experience God, we must first die to self. The problem is that “self” is a powerful force in our lives, and the process of dying is typically traumatic and filled with suffering.

For this reason, most of us don’t really want to die to self, which is why the wilderness is necessary. Typically, we find ourselves in this place because we were forced into it. We might even spend an agonizingly long time wandering around in it (the Israelites spent forty years here). The experience can seem punitive, but it’s meant to be redemptive—even though it may not seem that way. Mother Teresa, for example, never found her way out.

The important thing is to keep going. Confront your hurdles in an honest way. Identify what you are wrestling with. And realize that at some point you have to let go. This will mean different things for various people, but to some degree it is the understanding that to find an infinite God, one must travel beyond the clichés and aphorisms, beyond narcissism and ego, and sometimes even beyond the left brain’s abilities to form words.

To get there, you have to just keep moving forward.

Going Deeper
St. John of the Cross, Dark Night of the Soul
Augustine, Confessions