Guest Post: The Next 40 Years …

by Astell

I have always been fascinated with Moses and the Children of Israel. I won’t say that Yul Brenner and Charlton Heston had nothing to do with my initial fascination, but my real obsession began in seminary.

I only attended seminary for a year due to my dad’s military assignments. That year we studied the Old Testament. On more than one occasion, I made that poor volunteer teacher cry, in her own living room, as she tried to teach the six kids who showed up. I did not understand oh so many things. I mean sin offerings for giving birth? My questions were hard and unremitting. And I was a 14-year-old snot.

But when the course was over, my real bewilderment became: how on earth the Children of Israel could see miracle after miracle and not believe. Parting the Red Sea, water from a rock, manna, the brass serpent. The list is long, it is spectacular, and after every single miracle they just keep asking to go back? Back to what? Back to slavery? How could you walk away from a God that loves you? Who fought for you? Who parted the Red Seas? How could you pick Pharaoh over Jehovah, every single time? The mind just boggles, or at least mine did.

Then as Israel wanders 40 years in the wilderness for that faithlessness, in a geographic area where they really should have stumbled into the Promised Land a year into the journey, well, that in itself is a miracle. The fact that they continued missing it is another spectacular miracle. But once I saw that, I began to see this journey was meant to teach both the old and the new generations to see God, to see the miracles, to accept the gifts. Without that vision the promised land would be useless to them. Or at the very least, the journey would serve the purpose of killing the old ones off so the new ones had a chance to see what God had in store for them.

I have thought a lot about that old generation that had to wander because they could not accept what Jehovah had to offer. My first thought was, how could they be that blind? (And honestly I might have used the word stupid.) Now that I am part of the “older generation,” – a group of saints who have lived in the current church structure our whole lives – my second and subsequent thoughts have been: how very like that generation coming out of Egypt we are as a church today.

Sometimes, in our joy of the restoration of all things, I wonder if we feel like we are smarter or somehow superior to those chosen ones of ancient Israel. That we have truth, doctrine, and covenants they did not; what in fact they rejected. We made it across the plains. We listen to our leaders. We observe the covenants. Our temples have foundations. Therefore, we can’t make the same mistakes. We will never be so blind, so thankless, so stupid.

But as I really begin to see, I realize we are as bound to our culture as they were. We look to our Egypt and slave master Pharaoh just as they did–for guidance, acceptance, and orientation. We refuse to give up the old ways because they are ours and have always been, as far as we know, and will always be, as far as we know. We reverence our traditions because they are familiar, just as a man in a white shirt and tie or a woman in a dress on Sunday gives us a sense of order. We see that as virtuous. We cling to it. But as a result, we refuse to see anything else offered. Just as Israel of old, we are offered spectacular miracles to set us free, priceless gifts from Jehovah that are ours simply for the looking, and we choose not to receive them because, well, no one else ever has. It can’t work that way. No one else does it that way. We have never tried that. We don’t understand it, so it can’t work.

It is no surprise that there are some difficult challenges facing the church today as we are forced out into the open by the cultural tides of world events. Members are angry.  Members are lost. Members are confused. Members are overwhelmed and scared. Some would say the church’s very continuance would be a miracle. I would say it is entirely possible, looking at the spectacular miracles in our history, the church will continue. I would also say that it is entirely possible that what we, as a church, are doing right now is wandering in the wilderness, a divinely led journey, and a miracle in and of itself, as we are being prepared to accept what Jehovah has to offer: a more excellent way. It’s not like it has not happened before.

Astell is a Navy brat and enthusiastic traveler who somehow landed in Utah. She is married with two small girls and teaches online adjunct, spins, and knits.  She really likes the idea of doing Yoga and finding balance spiritually and intellectually. 

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13 Responses

  1. EFH says:

    Wow, I loved this. I am currently reading the OT and this post has given me a lot to think about.

  2. Caroline says:

    Astell,
    Thanks for this wonderful post. I love this. “I would also say that it is entirely possible that what we, as a church, are doing right now is wandering in the wilderness, a divinely led journey, and a miracle in and of itself, as we are being prepared to accept what Jehovah has to offer: a more excellent way.” What a hopeful, uplifting perspective. I desperately hope that we as a church are indeed being prepared for a more excellent way. Thank you again!

  3. Melody says:

    This is beautifully expressed, Astell. I especially loved this: “we are as bound to our culture as they were. . . We reverence our traditions because they are familiar, just as a man in a white shirt and tie or a woman in a dress on Sunday gives us a sense of order. We see that as virtuous. We cling to it. . .” Amen.

    Change is hard, but so necessary for growth. I don’t have an answer for how to ease that change for the vast, general population. We are a huge tribe these days, but I am glad to see individuals pressing forward in meaningful ways and, like you, I think, the organization is heading in a good direction. Here’s hoping we get to see the promised land sooner than later. Thanks for this thoughtful post.

    Also, I LOVE that road sign! Love it!

  4. EJM says:

    AMEN!! I also think of Laman and Lemuel and the witnesses they received after leaving Jerusalem.
    Then again I think of myself and all that I know and have received because of the gospel. I’ve given up focussing on the Church and all its vain traditions and people (ugh, so frustrating).
    In the last two years I’ve put all my focus on the gospel and the Saviour, and I feel my journey is so much better and going in the right direction. It’s a journey and sometimes I look back, and that’s okay, then I continue forward. Tough slugging sometimes.

  5. Cruelest Month says:

    Beautiful post. The challenge in accepting gifts, blessings, and the miracles is one that I’m still contemplating. Hoping it won’t take me forty years of circling to accept all the good life offers.

  6. Hedgehog says:

    Just saying, they did get there relatively quickly the first time around. However, they were too scared to fight for the land then, and were at that point condemned to wander 40 years (see Numbers 13&14). So, in the spirit of your post (which analogy I enjoyed), I’m wondering what it is we might have been/are afraid of?

  7. Jenny says:

    I like this. I have always been fascinated with the theme of wilderness wandering that exists in God’s dealings with humans. It’s a huge part especially in our Mormon narrative: Moses and the Israelites, the Jaredites, Nephi’s family, the early church pioneers. It’s interesting to think of our church today being in a wilderness. I’m excited to see what our promised land looks like, but I think it is the wilderness that shapes the promised land. This is the most important part of the journey. Thank you for your thoughtful post.

  8. Pandora says:

    There was so much that resonated with me in this post! Starting with a shared childhood fascination with Charlton Heston and the tendency to drive Old Testament instructors to tears (“but WHY???”).

    I have always been torn by our (Mormon) ways of dealing with the Old Testament. On one hand I get annoyed when we try to apply too much of our “like unto us” platitudes to an ancient people. They had their own culture and understanding – clearly Leviticus has to be read through the lens of their perspective. But I think you beautifully discuss the other extreme in your analogy. That sometimes we distance ourselves from these very human stories. We don’t see enough connection between our behavior and the behavior of the Israelites. I remember my dad saying, “They are such a childlike people,” and me looking at his new car and the golden calf and thinking, “hmmmmmmmm . . . ” I love your line: “Just as Israel of old, we are offered spectacular miracles to set us free, priceless gifts from Jehovah that are ours simply for the looking, and we choose not to receive them because, well, no one else ever has. It can’t work that way. No one else does it that way. We have never tried that. We don’t understand it, so it can’t work.”

    The Old Testament is a hard balance – and a wonderful puzzle to inspire. Of all the scripture stories, I love this text the most, perhaps because there are no easy ways to look at things.
    Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts!

  9. EmilyCC says:

    Astell, I love this biblical exegesis. So much good stuff. I’m a little embarrassed that I never thought of some of the miracles you mentioned–that the children of Israel did wander for so dang long, that they didn’t disband and fight (more). I look at this story and the people in the New Testament, too–one after another who didn’t recognize Jesus as the son of God and the Messiah. These lessons are so prominent; so many people missing what should have been right before them that I can’t help but wonder with you. What are we also missing that’s right before us?

  10. Rachel says:

    Beautiful. Thank you.

  11. It occoured to me this morning that another thing we have to be wary of in our 40 years wandering is making assumptions about what the Promised land is going to be like when we get there. Will we be like those who expected a “land of milk and honey”, “streets paved with gold”, or “a paradise in the mountains”, get to see the reality and be discouraged or even hostile about the reality?

    I’d hate to be a contributor to the cause of us needing to wander another 40 years.

  12. Suzette says:

    Well Said!

    I think we need to do a lot more talking and sharing and discussing. What is the “most excellent way”? How do we find it?

    Whenever anyone challenges my feminist views, I sit down and say “tell me about it”. I want to hear all sides. (I like being right … however …. when I am. ha) But I think we find our way together, by pushing forward. Challenging.

    And this is a great analogy.

    S

  13. Heather says:

    Beautifully written, insightful, and just what I needed.

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