Ted Dahlman is one of my best friends. We met in China, and spent three years working together there (he stayed a fourth). Unlike me, Ted is an actual writer. He studied English for an undergraduate degree and holds a master’s degree in fine arts and playwriting. Yeah, cool. He’s currently training for some government work. This is part one, of Ted’s four part series on joy here at aliens and strangers. Oh, and Ted blogs here.
Fun weighs fifteen grams and comes in one pound bags for about three dollars. What about joy?
I don’t know how many of you have been to a military boot-camp, but it can be a lot of fun. For some people, I’ll bet. I tried to forget most of it as soon as it happened.
One thing I remember is, when we got in trouble, we would have to “exercise” in our sleeping bay. For some reason, while doing these “exercises,” it made it easier for me if I stood behind a taller guy, like a kid hiding by covering his eyes. Of course I knew the instructors could see me, but somehow, if I couldn’t see them, I could forget them and get through it with less stress.
I was certainly glad to have the instructors around, however, when it came time to do things like rifle or grenade qualification. Some battles you just don’t want to fight alone.
In Exodus 33:12-34:9, the Israelites had a mountain between themselves and Moses & God. Without their leader to tell them what to do, the Israelites naturally turned to a golden calf* for a help. After Moses gave them some “corrective training,” God forgave them, but He wasn’t going to stick around.
EX 33:4 When the people heard these distressing words, they began to mourn and no one put on any ornaments. 5 For the LORD had said to Moses, “Tell the Israelites, `You are a stiff-necked people. If I were to go with you even for a moment, I might destroy you.’”
The people were now terrified. We can hide from God, but this will only lead to fear. Joy comes from God’s presence.
PS 16:11 You have made known to me the path of life;
you will fill me with joy in your presence,
with eternal pleasures at your right hand.
NE 8:10 Nehemiah said, “…. This day is sacred to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the LORD is your strength.”
Moses wisely sought God’s presence. He spoke with God, and God agreed to pass by. Commentators Joel Marcus and David Garland tell us the verbs translated as “pass by” or “pass in front of” are used in Scripture to denote a theophany. God sometimes gave the gift of His presence to particular people for particular purposes.
EX 34: 5 Then the LORD came down in the cloud and stood there with him and proclaimed his name, the LORD. 6 And he passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, “The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, 7 maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin.”
God’s presence causes joy. Joy empowers us to do God’s work. Why else would we know we need to seek God’s presence when about to do something difficult?
Moses would certainly need God’s strength to lead his people for forty years. I know I call on the Name of the LORD with fear and trembling when I have to do forty push-ups.
HEB 12: 2 Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.
But sometimes things are easy. Sometimes God’s presence doesn’t seem necessary. Sometimes I forget joy and settle for fun, like, for example, Saturday.
The funny thing is, God is always present. We just hide our eyes and pretend we can’t see Him.
What about you? When have you wished God would pass by?
* I usually prefer Golden Arches myself.