The other day, a friend of mine went to a lecture by Dr Fred Wright, a hebrew scholar. On her return, she shared some of what he had talked about, and it reminded me of a picture / word that I had been given by a friend last September. The word was holometabolism..or complete metamorphosis. I looked it up. There are four stages. Firstly, the egg that contains the DNA hatches into a vehicle called the larva. This larva feeds, is mobile, is often very active and prepares the organism for the penultimate stage; the pupa. The pupa is often immobile, it just sits there and literally eats itself from within. The hard shell of protection around it is often made from its own excrement, and it slowly dies. Literally, it is at the place of its final breath, that the most rapid and complete transformation occurs. The final stage is the mature insect emerging from the pupa, ready to reproduce. ‘In this stage, the insect’s physiology and functional structure, both internal and external, change drastically.’ as good old Wikipedia says. It is un-recognisable.
It’s the same with our spiritual lives, both individually and corporately. The pupa, if you like, is the midbar (desert) or place of solitude. Within that place, our lives catch up with a greater reality of the death of our flesh, with Christ, on the cross. We find ourselves in the pit, seemingly immobile. We try to pull ourselves out, reach up for familiar hand-holds, but to no avail. The desert brings you to the edge of, and then seemingly well beyond the limits of your own resources. Jesus’ midbar was the place where he was tempted by the devil ‘in every way’. Peirazomai is the greek word used, meaning ‘to try intentionally … with the purpose of discovering what good or evil, power or weakness, was in a person.’ Unpleasant but necessary.
In the desert we often find the bor or pit. In reality, this was a deep pit that often had slippery or wet sides that were impossible to climb out of. It is often used as a metaphor for ‘the grave’. Even now, as I type, I can almost smell the earth on top of me,pressing me down. This is a place of destruction. In the same way that Jesus took our sin to the grave with us, so there had to be that moment of death. And when you are in that place of death, your flesh screams out! Oh, for the comfort of the old ways! Oh, how tempting the taste of the old fruit is..or other people’s fruit. In the grave you are faced with who you were. You can smell the putrefying stench of the old ways, the things that distracted you, that you had made idols of. You cannot move forward. You cry out in the words of David’s Psalm 38:
I am bent over and racked with pain.
All day long I walk around filled with grief.
A raging fever burns within me,
and my health is broken.
I am exhausted and completely crushed.
My groans come from an anguished heart.
You know what I long for, Lord;
you hear my every sigh.
My heart beats wildly, my strength fails,
and I am going blind.
My loved ones and friends stay away, fearing my disease.
Even my own family stands at a distance.
Meanwhile, my enemies lay traps to kill me.
Those who wish me harm make plans to ruin me.
All day long they plan their treachery.
But I am deaf to all their threats.
I am silent before them as one who cannot speak.
I choose to hear nothing,
and I make no reply.
For I am waiting for you, O Lord.
You must answer for me, O Lord my God.
It is in the pit that we learn to drink from him, and him alone. All props are gone, including the ones we have fashioned for ourselves. It is in the desert that we find the source of the river. And then…..eventually…..the shift; God moves. Having finally died completely to the old ways, God deems us ready for the new. For Moses, he left Egypt and entered the desert as a Prince; he returned to Egypt an apostle. He had tried to rescue one man with his own hands, and that had brought death. Now God was going to use him to rescue the entire nation, but with God’s hands, and that would bring life.
He is coming…..