Thursday, April 30, 2009

The View From The Wilderness

In the New Testament Greek the word erhmos occurs a total of forty-seven times in five forms. Although most often it is translated as wilderness, in some forms of the scholars have felt the word is more appropriately translated as an isolated or remote place, in essence a place of voluntary solitude: this is the exception being translated this way only nine times.

A most interesting exception to this is Luke 15:14 which in modern translations is translated as open pasture or open country. The translation note I read from the NET translation pointed out that this was an editorial decision because they did not like the sense the verse left when wilderness was used. I am no Greek expert at all, having barely passed it 14 years ago, I am still quite bothered by editorial decisions that are not reflected in the text. So I decided to use my gifts where they lie, and consult a database for further enlightenment. Liddell, a secular lexicon, has no such definition for the word.

At this point you may very well feel I am nit picking a word, and the editorial decision is harmless and changes nothing. In fact we like the idea as insiders on this "God family" that God leaves us nestled away in the safety of our open pasture while he treks out to find other lost sheep. Yet the language of Jesus, a master of story telling imagery, does not leave a crowd of insiders safe inside the sheep pen. Instead he leaves us in the wilderness, the same wilderness that he was driven off into to be tempted, the same wilderness that symbolizes the barren woman's desolation.

The wilderness is not a welcoming picture at all. In fact scholar Roderick Fraser-Nash in his work Wilderness and the American Mind points out that our word wilderness "comes from the concept of wildeor, used in the 8th-century Beowulf epic the word is a mixture of “will”—self-willed, uncontrollable nature and deor, meaning savage beast. So then the “wilderness” is the place where uncontrollable dangerous beasts lurk, it is dark and threatening place. It is the kind of place where mythical horrors like Sasquatch and Chupacabra lurk. It's the kind of place where the son of God goes toe to toe with his enemy. This is the place the Great shepherd leaves his flock.

The abandonment in the isolation of the wilderness, is not unfamiliar to anyone who has been in this Christianity thing for long. Honestly speaking, I am here in it right now. A year ago our plans were to be in Swaziland, ministering to orphans. Tonight, I still sit here in Chicago, same house, same job, same...., The isolation of the sameness is a wilderness, a year has come and gone and the work I long to be doing for the Kingdom, still sits miles away on the other side of this wilderness. It can be depressing if I allow it to be.

Yet for here, and for now I take comfort. Though I am out here in the wilderness, it is just the place the Great shepherd left me, and he is still about the business of rescue. I am in a desolate place, but remain in good hands.

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