[For the IVP Authors’ Lenten Blog Tour]
God’s rescue operations can feel like assault operations. At times, it is hard to distinguish between salvation and affliction.
A sea was parted for my family about a year and half ago. After ten years of collecting airline mileage points in hopes of me doing a PhD program in England, my wife was finally on the phone with a ticketing agent. While accumulating mileage points, though, we were also accumulating children. Four of them. We only had half the necessary mileage points, and no real funds to make up the difference. The ticketing agent then mentioned that for the first time in its history, the airline was accepting points for one-way tickets, not just round-trip. “Would one-way work?”
We had 165,768 points. The amount required was 165,000. “Oh, yes, one-way will work.”
The evidence of providence was surely in the close figures. We stepped forward for the exciting trek ahead.
Then came the most distressing season of our adult lives—months of juggling insane schedules while plodding on toward wider, stormier seas left unparted. We were not sure we would board that flight until three weeks before departure. But we did. Another sea was crossed—literally. Thank You, Lord….
….And then an even more difficult season ensued.
All these partings seemed to be leading not to deliverance but to disaster. I complain a lot. I pelt desperate prayers skyward. I just want to follow God’s lead. Why must he complicate and obscure the path at every turn?
I find myself echoing a rather unheroic voice in Scripture: the voice of Israel in the wilderness.
The Exodus out of Egypt is the Old Testament prototype of God’s salvation. It must have seemed an odd way “to save” for the Israelites. In many respects, it was a botched rescue op from the beginning that felt more like oppression. Moses to Pharaoh: Let them go. Pharaoh to Israel: Make more bricks… and get your own straw. Israel to Moses: “You have put a sword in [Egypt’s] hand to kill us” (Ex 5:21).
This was a deliverance marked by a river swollen with blood, by heaps of rotting frog-flesh, by eerie nighttime wails in the homes of unbloodied lintels—
What kind of rescue plan is this? You call this “salvation”?
To be sure, when the sea parted, there was singing and dancing. Worship. Finally, amidst nightmarish plagues, there was the taste of freedom.
But not the taste of food. Or water.
Would that we had died by the hand of the LORD in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the meat pots and ate bread to the full… (Ex 16:3).
Egypt’s oppression seemed better than God’s deliverance. Divine rescue felt like divine attack. This “salvation” seemed too painful, too risky, too costly. What kind of salvation is this?
And what kind of Savior is this?
The hope of Canaan seemed pathetic consolation. God advertised the place as flowing with milk and honey… and also with Canaanites, Hittites, Perizzites, Hivites, Jebusites and Amorites. This is a salvation that lands you in a desert, that thrusts you before the spears of unknown enemies.
And yet the Exodus is the paradigmatic portrayal in Israel’s Scriptures of the salvation of God and of God as Savior.
How does that affect our soteriology?
God’s salvation requires intense acculturation. To be extracted from Egypt and acclimated to life before YHWH, intense seasons of painful re-orientation must follow the dramatic ripping of seas. We must be wary of rosy depictions of salvation as the Christianized “good life.” Salvation sometimes hurts.
Lent, however, reminds us that salvation ultimately hurts the Savior more than the saved.
When Jesus talked on the Transfiguration Mount with Moses and Elijah about his upcoming “departure” in Jerusalem, the Greek word used is “exodus” (Lk 9:31).
What kind of salvation is this? One that requires a lot of ripping. The ripping of a sea, of the sky, of a curtain veil. One that requires the death of a lamb… and of a King’s Son. Not Pharaoh’s son this time. The Son of the Saving God. What kind of Savior is this? One who gives blood and water better than milk and honey. It’s not the Nile that turns to blood this time. It’s the wine. This is a Savior who may lead us into barren wastelands… but one who has endured himself the full brunt of salvation’s pain. The wider sea left unparted now has an inaugural gash. The open hole of Jesus’ tomb is a puncture-wound in the sea of Death.
I am not sure what sort of salvation this is. But it is the only kind strongest enough for me. And for you.