Sunday, January 05, 2014

TorahBytes: A Different Kind of Hard (Be-Shallah)

When Pharaoh drew near, the people of Israel lifted up their eyes, and behold, the Egyptians were marching after them, and they feared greatly. And the people of Israel cried out to the Lord. (Shemot / Exodus 14:10; ESV)

On New Year’s Eve, as is our custom, we had a bunch of people over - some old friends, some new friends - to mark the beginning of another calendar year. At one point I was sitting by a couple of people having a conversation. One of them has known God through the Messiah for about three years; the other for about a year. They were discussing whether or not they were finding life easier or harder since first coming to believe. Each of them at the very beginning of their new lives of faith experienced a great contrast with their life prior to believing. Knowing Yeshua made life so wonderful. Yet for both of them the exhilaration only lasted so long before life again became difficult. It was around that point in their conversation that I asked about the nature of the difficulties they were facing, for I too had a similar experience.

For me the transition from unbelief to faith was like night and day. I had been absolutely miserable, struggling with depression and hopelessness and suffering from panic attacks. But when I asked God to forgive me my sins and asked Yeshua (I called him “Jesus” at the time) into my life, everything changed. Not only did the panic attacks stop, I was on cloud nine for months! But eventually just like my friends were saying the other night, life got difficult again. And also like these friends, I didn’t see right away that the difficulties I was facing were different from those I struggled with prior to my knowing God. I had wondered if the re-occurrences of former struggles might be an indication that I had lost touch with my new found faith or worse - that my spiritual experience was not real after all. What took time for me to discover, and what I was trying to communicate to my friends was that while faith in the Messiah alleviates all sorts of difficulties and problems, it also creates a whole new set.

This is exactly what the people of Israel had to learn when they left Egypt. For hundreds of years they endured the oppression of forced servitude. The sufferings of Israel typify the bondage all of us face under the control of sin, evil, and death. The anguish experienced under slavery completely controls our lives - the suffering of imposed victimization. How wonderful it is when the bonds of control are broken and we are set free. God through signs and wonders changed the people’s status from slaves to free people. They left Egypt, no longer obliged to submit to Pharaoh’s oppressive rule.

But from the moment Israel was no longer Pharaoh’s slaves, they became his enemies. Once he could no longer hold them captive, he pursued them. That was a problem they never had before. Actually, that was a new problem that didn’t last that long. But once they fully eluded Pharaoh and his army after crossing the Red Sea, they had to face yet another new set of problems as God began to lead them through the wilderness. Later in the story we read how they perceived that their new problems were far worse than their old ones under Pharaoh. How quickly they forgot how terrible it was; how quickly we forget how terrible it was for us.

One of the reasons why we struggle with our new difficulties is that we are often not adequately prepared for them. When I was first told about the difference Yeshua would make in my life if I received him, I was given the impression that I would be happy from that time on. No wonder the emergence of new difficulties became a crisis for me. And it’s no wonder if you have a similar expectation of what following Yeshua is all about that you will be offended by the struggles you may be currently facing.

I am sorry if you for one reason or another have misinformed expectations of what it means to know God. But let me give you a more accurate picture; the one given to us by God himself in the story of Israel's release from slavery. Faith in Yeshua is not about freedom from life’s difficulties. It is about being freed from oppression in order that we might become his agents of freedom to others. The things that troubled us when we were slaves to sin, need no longer control us; while those things that trouble us now as believers used to be of no concern to us. The hardships of the past were due to the oppression of sin and evil under the rulership of the devil as we were on the road to hell. The hardships of today (if you are a true believer) are because of God’s work in and through your life, the fruit of which is life everlasting.

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