I began pondering the role my attitude played in my suffering following a sermon I heard from my pastor. He mentioned his belief that it wasn’t God’s intention that the Israelites remain in the wilderness for 40 years. There was something about the Israelites that extended their suffering. Besides pondering my own attitude, I happened to be simultaneously thinking about the goodness of God, and what I might be doing that hindered my experiencing that goodness. When you consider the majority response of the Israelites to the spies report (the hope and promise that they would soon be moving towards the land of promise) there was the usual complaining and grumbling. Compared with the minority response of Joshua and Caleb, several subtle differences in attitude arise beyond the obvious positive/negative ones. For one, the majority had no concept of the goodness of God as compared to Joshua and Caleb. God was instead seen as a great disappointer, a destroyer of hope, a God who apparently had no concern for them, or for their children. Secondly, they had no sense that God had, and would be “with them.” It is my personal sense that when one suffers for a long time one tends to feel very alone and demoralized. The Israelites suffered a long time as slaves before they finally cried out to God, and he heard them. God’s promise to them was that he was leading them into a new land flowing with milk and honey. After witnessing miracle after miracle in the desert, why was there was no real change in their attitude?
I’ve come to think about “attitude” as much more than merely positive thinking. When you look at the life of David, even when being punished by God, he threw himself at the mercy of God, entrusting him with even his own punishment. I believe that as Christians facing dire circumstances, we must actively practice not only the presence of God, but also believing tenaciously in his goodness. It is an act of faith, an act of warfare, and it is above all a holding on to a foundational truth. If we fail to believe in the goodness of God, we cannot truly please him. Sin causes us to question the goodness of God, as it did for Adam and Eve.
The goodness of God and the awareness of his presence with us are inextricably linked.
When Naomi returned to Judah after the loss of her two sons, she was filled with despair. She said “the Almighty has dealt bitterly with me, I went away full, but the Lord has brought me back empty.” Yet, she recognized the hand of God when Ruth, her daughter-in-law “happened” to glean in the fields of her nearest kin. The problem with complaining and grumbling (as the Israelites did) is that it prevents you from being open to the movement of God and the penetration of his reality into yours. When suffering seems to be endless it is easy to project a future of calamity when the future is in truth unknown. Suspending judgment regarding the future and trusting instead in the goodness of God, places you squarely in the path of his reality and activity.
Whenever we face longstanding difficulties, we need to remind ourselves that like the Israelites, God does hear our cries, he is mindful of our suffering, and he is actively leading us out into a better land. It is also our attitude towards God in the midst of our suffering that determines how long we remain in the wilderness.