WITHOUT LIGHT, THERE IS NO SHADOW
Exodus 14:19-31, Psalm 114 , Matthew 18:21&22
September 15, 1996 by Tad Mitsui
Every new experience of life is a process of growth. And we know that a ceratin amount of pain is unavoidable in a process of growth. You can complain about it, or you can celebrate it. As soon as God led the people of Israel out of slavery and out of Egypt where they lived for nearly four hundred years, they ran into hardship and some scary experiences they did not anticipate. They complained about them bitterly and wanted to go back to become slaves again, because at least it was the place they knew.
As the story goes, calamities befell the Egyptians, one after another. The Egyptians did not blame God but blamed the Hebrews for their many misfortunes. The king wanted them to go as soon as possible. But Moses knew that the king would change his mind. He had done it many times before. So the Hebrews left Egypt in a hurry. According to the Bible, God instructed them not to wait for bread dough to rise before they baked it. They were told not to gut the animals before they roasted them. There was no time to waste. They ate the dinner without sitting at the table, standing, already dressed to travel. They left in a hurry.
They were happy as they started out. They were free! No more hard labour in the hot sun, mixing mud, moulding it and baking bricks, day after day. They were no longer other people”s slaves. They were free and independent human beings. But as soon as they got out of the city, they found themselves in the desert. It was not just hot sand and prickly bushes, but it was also a long stretch of hard rocks with sharp edges, or exhausting process of trudging up and down of the sand dunes. Also, there were many hungry predatory animals. Worse still, Moses didn”t tell them clearly which way they should be going. At that point, he didn”t know that either. It was a test of trust in God. They were so busy getting out of Egypt, they didn”t have time to think about those details. So reality set in as they inched forward with heavy loads on their backs. It was hot and dry. "How long do we have to keep walking? We have no more jobs. How are we going to make a living? Where does our next meal come from?" Many troubling questions began to bother them. You would do that when your trust in God wanes.
Then they came to a swamp with reed bushes. The water looked deep. Also there was another problem on the horizon. The king had changed his mind again. He wanted slaves back. No Egyptian would do such a dirty job as cheaply as the Jews used to do. They were important for the country”s economy. So he sent his army to bring the slaves back. They were ordered to kill them if they refused to return. There was dust rising on the horizon. The Egyptian army! Now what? Speak about the devil and the deep blue sea: They were in between. So now they were really complaining to Moses. "Just look at the mess you got us into. In Egypt, we had work, enough food at least and place to live. But here, we have none of them. And now we are either going to be killed by the soldiers or drown in the sea." Notice; they blamed Moses, not God. It is always easier to blame some one nearby than to look at a larger picture like God”s plan.
When we first think about something new, it always seems so attractive and exciting. In our excitement, it”s easy to overlook that what is new is also unknown and therefore can be frightening once you actually face it. Where there is light, there must be a shadow. Once we step into a new phase of life, we suddenly realize that we don”t know anything about the new territory. It is scary to realize this. It is like crossing of a sea. There is no bridge on which to go back. We seem suddenly to be surrounded by all sort of dangers. The real test for an adult who desires to be free and independent is how to face those problems.
You can avoid them, complain about them, or ignore them as though they don”t exist. But that means you have decided to not grow up. One can never learn to live by avoiding your problems. One can never learn to swim without getting wet. We must know that unresolved problems always seem an impossible challenge. Two summers ago, we discovered water slides at a park in the Laurentiens. We enjoyed the thrill of going down those steep and twisting slides. It must be like learning to ski down hill, which I have not done yet. But I have yet to go down the steepest straight down slide. We”ve looked at them every time we went there. It looked like jumping straight down from the top of a cliff. It looked like a sheer terror. But I suppose, once you have tried it, it must be such an exhilarating experience. That”s why we saw people, young and old, who kept going back up and shooting down. I don”t want to trivialize life”s serious experiences by comparing them to ski or to water slides. But the psychology behind overcoming the fear of unknown is basically the same. Unless you try it, you will never know.
To give birth to the first child must be very scary. The first day at the school, or at a new job can be very frightening. But we learn not to fear them from others” experiences of having gone through them. Also it helps to know that someone you love and trust is with you, going through the frightening experience with you. Then how come we always complain about any new situation that challenge us. We are just like the Hebrews on the banks of Red Sea.
The Hebrews witnessed many incredible and powerful acts of God that redeemed them from the bondage in Egypt. But how soon they forgot those favours they received from God. As soon as they came face to face with some fresh difficulties and dangers, they regretted that they had ever wanted to be free. When you can”t remember the love of God, you will never appreciate what it means to be a human being. The Hebrews wanted to return to the easy but sub-human life of slaves, because they forgot the love of God. When they were slaves, they did not have to make decisions, never had to exercise their imagination to solve problems. They were like babies letting others make all the decisions. In fact, it is the life of domesticated animals they wanted to go back to. They completely forgot how they hated the way they were treated like animals. When one is in such a mindset seeing only the past with nostalgia, one can not see any possibility of resolution because one is not looking forward. If going back seems impossible, sulking and whining are the only thing left for them to do. This was the case of the Hebrews by the Red Sea with the Egyptian Army behind them. "Why did you force us to do it? It is all your fault." We whine when we decide to give up, refusing to look at what is possible. When we give up, nothing is possible. Even if there are many avenues visible before us, we don”t see them.
Anyhow, when the whole company of Hebrews were in a state of panic, God told Moses to touch the water with his cane. We will never know what exactly happened. But the sea parted, and dry land appeared. Some translation of the Bible suggests "Reed Sea" instated of "Red Sea", which is Northwest of Red Sea and a border region between Egypt and Sinai desert. It is now a part of the Suez Canal system. In that region, from time to time, a strong gust of wind from Sahara desert can blow away water from the marshy reed bush, and animals and people could walk across the swamp for a short while. But it is also dangerous, because you never know when the wind stops and water comes back. The Egyptians did not make it. No one can tell if this was how it actually happened. The point is, however, that if you look hard enough, most problems are solvable. But if you give up and only complain, they are insolvable.
If you believe that you are acting according to God”s plan and you are a co-worker with God, you will be more determined to face life”s difficulties. You will not give up, because God is with you, as he promised to Moses. The most important lesson of the story is that the Hebrew people were always reminded that they were travelling with God, as he promised Moses that he would. Even when they forgot about God”s presence, there were many signs that reminded them of that. There were pillars of clouds in the daytime, and of the fire at night, which signalled God”s presence and his guidance. The same promise is with us. If you look around, there are many signs of God”s presence. If we forget, there are many faithful witnesses who point those signs out to us. Those witnesses are everywhere; some of them may be sitting next to you.