By Robert Beames
Every individual wants to be free. It’s rare to find a person unwilling to risk a great deal to escape from harsh imprisonment. We naturally want to go where we please, and constantly fight restrictions placed on the decisions we make. We want life to be easy. However, perhaps we aren’t as free as we would like to think. Don’t worry, it’s actually a good thing.
After building the great city of Egypt, which would serve as a prison to the chosen nation of God for over 400 years, God responded to the cries of His people for freedom.
The process of events which God used to set Israel free was amazing from the first of the plagues to the devastating final blow to Egypt via the death of the great city’s first-born. Each part of the process was clearly done to bring glory to Israel’s God, but even after what Israel saw, doubt remained as the huddled masses of Hebrews clung to each other in fear staring at the enormous cloud of revengeful rage approaching them in the form of the mighty army of Egypt. Their backs were up against an equally daunting mass of water which promised to quickly serve as a massive sepulcher for the former slave nation. Many of the Israelites probably would have chosen the watery grave rather than have their body parts spread across the dry sand with their blood watering the unforgiving desert.
They were in this predicament not because they took a wrong turn, but because they followed the mouth-piece of their God. Now they were cornered by one gruesome form of death behind and a watery grave before them. God would use this situation to make a lasting impression on them as their sole deliverer. They were not in the wrong place. They were cornered by grace. We know it ended well for them, but it doesn’t mean things always go so well for us.
Perhaps the Psalmist had this one famous historical event in mind when he wrote Psalm 139:5. “You hem me in behind and before, and you lay your hand upon me.” At least, the writer of this Psalm understood that God is active in the lives of His people, and implied what others tend to forget after 400 years, 10 plagues, or a sometimes just a few hours: God is the one who stands before us, no matter what it looks like to us. And He is the firm presence we feel from behind.
When we struggle to move forward against opposing forces, it is God working against us. He might block our every career move, shoot down our every proposal, or thwart every attempt to do what we believe is right. Sometimes the way is clear, but if it’s not, we can’t blame random events, or even the devil. God uses all things for His purposes, including the two forces just mentioned, but in the end, He is the one who stands before us. It’s for our own good, although we don’t always see it that way.
Sometimes He opposes us for a time because we need to stop and examine our disobedient hearts and humble ourselves before Him due to our sin. He may hinder our progress to develop a greater faith in Him, to grow our persistence, or build our character. We might not be doing anything wrong at all. Sometimes, He turns up the heat of His great refining fire (1 Peter 1:7) in order to help us identify our imperfections or to force us to flee toward Him. Most of the time, it doesn’t make much sense.
We all want an easy life, but being conformed to the image of Jesus necessitates drinking from a cup which is embittered with trials, much like the cup from which Jesus willingly chose to drink (Mark 10:39). God can seem really cruel when we don’t get want we want, or what we think we need. Naturally, we hate the strife of this world. He does, too. If there were another way, He would have told us.
It’s not like our lives are always like this. God often blesses us beyond our understanding. But when undesirable things happen, they come swiftly and strike hard. These things don’t come into our lives because He’s harsh. He takes no delight in our trials.
His actions are much like a parent who obstructs the pathway of a wayward crawler. At every turn the baby makes he finds his parent blocking the way. It doesn’t take long for frustration to set in accompanied by wailing in agony. To a crawling baby the actions seem unfair. He doesn’t comprehend the harm he could get into if allowed to go his own way.
In a similar way, God’s grace can hem us in. It may not seem like a loving gesture, but in the end there is no place we’d rather be. His hand may weigh heavy upon us at times and we may feel like we take the brunt of His fury. Sometimes it may seem more like His grip is around our throat! But His loving hand is upon us and He knows what He’s doing. If He has to obstruct our every move to keep us where we need to be, He will do it out of His great love for us.
If necessary, He’ll block our way going forward, and He’s also there when we turn around in an attempt to return to the more familiar circumstances we left. He burns down bridges, rips apart safety nets, and sends birds to scarf up the trail of bread crumbs we left behind as we desperately wait for His direction.
In this life we can really feel cornered at times. We can feel penned in all around. It can feel like we’re between a rock and a hard place. But, if we are cornered with no way out, it’s His grace which surrounds us before and behind. His love places the rock before us. His mercy causes the hard place to remain firm behind us. No matter where His providence takes us – sometimes to places we might have never thought we could possibly be – we are exactly where He wants us to be. This defines the power of His love.
Even if we think we’ve painted ourselves in a corner, even if we’ve arrived at our desperate location due to our own sin, we are still right where we need to be – at least for the moment. It doesn’t mean we’ll stay there long, but then again… it might. He knew where we were going and He prepared the way for us. His grace gently corners us until He lovingly nudges us to move.
Sometimes, we feel like we’d be better off on our own. Even in our darkest trials, we echo the question Peter asked, “Lord, to whom shall we go?” (John 6:68). He has us right where we need to be: in His love.
(I believe He wanted me to remind you of this.)