Reliving the Journeys: The Divine Life Coach
What is God?
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Those 40 years of journeys through the wilderness of Sinai and southern Israel and Jordan were not just the meanderings of a nomadic tribe 3,000 years ago. Historians may see them that way, or they may believe that the journeys never happened to begin with. The Bible considers them to be the formative years of the Israelite nation and the origins of Judaism. They were the years of struggle to survive in a harsh environment, of acquiring an identity as a people, and of gaining an understanding of their God. It took 40 years because that was the divine decree following the rebellion of the spies. But it also took 40 years to imbibe the difficult concept of living with a God who cares about the spiritual state of His people.
‘And you must remember the entire way that Hashem your God led you for these 40 years, in order to afflict you, to challenge you, to know if it is in your heart to keep His commandments or not. He afflicted you and famished you and fed you Manna that neither you nor your fathers knew, in order to teach you that man does not live by bread alone, but on all that comes out from the mouth of God (8:2-3). ‘Lest you eat and become satiated, and build good houses and dwell (in them). And your cattle and sheep will multiply and you increase your silver and gold, and all that you possess increase. And your heart becomes arrogant and you forget Hashem your God, who took you out of the land of Egypt from slavery. Who led you in the great and awesome wilderness of poisonous snakes and scorpions and thirst with no water, who extracted for your water from the flint rock. Who fed you Manna in the wilderness that neither you nor your fathers knew in order to afflict you and to challenge you for your ultimate good. And you will say in your heart, “My power and the strength of my hand have done this valor”’ (8:12-17).
The conclusion to all this is: ‘And now Israel, what does Hashem your God ask of you other than to fear Hashem your God, to walk in all of His ways, to love Him and to serve Hashem your God with all of your heart and with all of your life. To keep the commandments of Hashem your God and His statutes that I command you today for your own good. Behold the heavens and the heavens of the heavens belong to Hashem your God, and the earth and all that is in it. Hashem only yearned to love your forefathers, and chose you, their descendants, from all the nations as (you see) today. And you must circumcise your uncircumcised hearts, and no longer stiffen your necks. For Hashem your God is the God of gods and the Lord of lords, a great, powerful, and awesome God who shows no favoritism and accepts no bribes.’ (10:12-17).
We must try to understand what the real message is in the verses from chapter 10. They first seem to diminish the magnitude of what Hashem is demanding. Then there is this line about how Hashem owns everything. What this has to do with the previous line is anything but clear. Then it mentions how everything belongs to Hashem who happened to desire their ancestors so He chose them, the descendants. Was Hashem simply stuck with the ungrateful descendants of those illustrious ancestors and has no choice but to grind them into worthy heirs? Why are the Israelites being demeaned and their task minimized? The two paragraphs seem to give opposite messages – the first stressing the importance of their mission to Hashem, and the second seeming to make it trivial in comparison to Hashem’s greatness.
The idea of God using those 40 years of journeying through the wilderness as one big challenge course strikes us as a little crude. It is one thing for a person to volunteer to be put through some rigorous test of strength, courage, and endurance, but it is quite another to force somebody to go through it. Also, those challenge courses all come to an end at some point. This one took more than an entire generation. Furthermore, we can handle a human coach putting us through that hell. That coach would suffer just as much as we do, so we relate to the coach as an equal trying to make us improve. With God, there is no sense of equality. When God does this to a poor mortal, it smacks a little of sadism.
But this is only because we may not have the full appreciation of the proving ground that life really is. We see it as a ride in an amusement park – fun and games with a price to pay every once in a while. The Bible, in these harsh verses, is telling us that this is a profoundly incorrect perception. Life is not fun and games. Life can be a lot of fun, but it certainly isn’t a game. Life is a tough journey meant to toughen people up. It was meant to fortify us so that we will be able to face the next challenge, which happens to be whatever happens later in life.
Those 40 years, with all their snakes and scorpions and hunger and thirst, were a microcosm of actual life. Life has its share of snakes and scorpions. It has its hungers and its thirsts. It has Manna falling from heaven and people getting tired of it. It has wandering around getting nowhere and then finally realizing that we were on a path after all. Moshe forced the Israelites to relive those journeys when they were about to enter the ‘real world’. They were forced to look back over what they had gone through, forced to remember it so that they would be able to remember it in the future.
God was their coach - a divine coach - but a coach nevertheless. They may not have volunteered for this training program, but then again, we don’t exactly volunteer for life. God was/is the divine Life Coach, guiding them/us through this amazing life challenge program. There are two primary challenges that God led them through. The first and most obvious was deprivation. Facing the challenges of hunger and thirst, and the constant threat of death, turned them into people who had both the courage to face such challenges again and the knowledge to understand where their true salvation lies. Maintaining this understanding was the second challenge – to not be deceived by whatever successes that had achieved. This is actually the more difficult test, for it is our own achievements that constitute that greatest temptation to forget about God.
‘Behold the heavens and the heavens of the heavens belong to Hashem your God, and the earth and all that is in it’. It all belongs to Hashem – everything from the earth to the highest heaven. All of our material possessions, all of our spiritual achievements, everything here and everywhere else, are all from Hashem. This doesn’t mean that our challenges are not challenges. The paragraph in chapter 8 emphasized that they indeed are challenges. It is important, however, to keep those challenges in their proper perspective. They are challenges and they are difficult. But they are nothing more than playing your part in this great plan called creation. You were only selected because your forefathers recognized their part and excelled at it. You are their heirs, following in their footsteps in playing your part in God’s world.
Where is the Life Coach in all this? He’s still pumping them up with life goals but He’s sending them a different motivational message. Instead of stressing the harshness of the journey, Moshe is reminding them who their Coach actually is. It’s like going to the gym and the instructor is trying to get you to work harder. He’s telling you that you can do it but you’ve just got to put in more effort, etc. But slowly it begins to dawn on you that this guy is actually right. You are getting somewhere, but you still are not totally convinced that this is really going to work.
Then he pulls out another trick from his bag. He has the manager of the gym come up to you and asks you how everything is going. He gets into small talk about the instructor and how he really knows what he’s doing, that he’s worked with other people before and has a remarkable success rate, etc., etc. When he sees that you are still a little skeptical he lets you in on a little secret. ‘The guy working with you owns the gym. In fact he owns a whole network of gyms. He even created the system that the gyms use. He wrote the book. He’s the guy.’ When you hear this you realize what a privilege it has been to be working with the person who created the whole system. This puts a completely different light on your efforts and what you are trying to accomplish. He did it because he really cares and he wants to make this work for you. Somehow, it doesn’t seem as tough as it used to.
This is our Coach. He owns the gym. All the Creator of the universe, the One who possesses it all, is asking you to do is to fear, love, serve, walk with, and listen to that Owner. It’s all for your own good anyway, and look who it is who is asking this of you. It changes everything.
Perceiving the Image
Life coaches are a very useful feature of the modern world. We all need somebody to put us back on track every once in a while. It doesn’t mean that the coach necessarily has any great insight into life’s mysteries. The coach is just a person who is looking in from outside and can get a less biased, more objective picture of what’s really needed in somebody else’s life. In the case of God, the Coach has the ultimate big picture of what’s going on. God understands the challenges we face in life because God is the one who either makes them happen or allows them to happen. All this testing is for our ‘ultimate good’. That we don’t necessarily see it as for our own good is merely a reflection of the limited perspective that we have on our own lives.
The image of God as the Possessor of the heavens, the heaven of heavens, and the earth is meant to enable us to see that all these challenges that God puts us through are really small potatoes when looked at through the perspective of the big picture. We tend to stuck in our own little worlds and we lose sight of what we really are in the midst of. When a person realizes that he or she is a vital part of an entire universe under the guidance of God, it makes getting stuck in traffic and being late for something or other not all that important. This is the image that allows us to gain the proper perspective on life. There is a big picture out there. That is the ‘God’s eye view’ of things. That perspective is the true perspective, while our personal vision is frequently obscured by very personal blinders. It is not easy to see things from God’s perspective, but certainly helps when life’s challenges get a little too tough and you need something to pull you through. That’s when the Coach comes in and tells you what it really all about.
It’s all very nice that God puts us through these challenges for our own betterment, but wouldn’t it be even better if we had some say in the matter? Why can’t we choose the challenges that we believe will do us the most good?
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