Buyer’s remorse is a common ailment most of us experience. We lay out a large sum of money, or invest a lot of time or other resources. Then, when we get our “prize” we often immediately feel a sense of regret. Why oh why did I waste all that (money, time, whatever) for THIS? Sometimes that feeling only lasts a short while — other times, it sticks with us for a long time.
It seems to me that the Israelites this week are feeling buyer’s remorse when it comes to God, Moses, and the promised land. At every turn, they seem to be saying how much better off they were back in Egypt. Better food. More secure lives. After all, life as a slave wasn’t all that bad, was it? At least they knew where their next meal was coming from, and where they’d be sleeping that night. Sometimes, the buyer’s remorse is so strong, they decide that they want to “take it back” and go back to being slaves in Egypt. But, of course, that’s not an option. Some things can’t be returned.
I know that if I were one of the Israelites, I’d probably be reacting in a similar way. I like my routine and my daily creature comforts — I wouldn’t want to leave that all behind for a vague promise of something better in the future, at least not once I was no longer under the immediate threat of the whips of the slave drivers. It’s easy to say that the Israelites were just stubborn and ungrateful for all that God had done for them, but I think there’s more of that in all of us than we’d like to admit.
But I don’t think that the Israelites were the only ones showing signs of buyer’s remorse!
Moses expresses his frustration on more than one occasion, He even says to God, essentially “Kill me now.” He’s got the burden of leading this herd of people who make a donkey seem cooperative by comparison. No wonder if he regrets ever turning aside to look at that burning bush!
And then there’s God himself. In several instances, God is ready to wipe them all out, and start over again with just Moses. Moses has to talk God down. To persuade God, for instance, that killing them all off wouldn’t look good to the neighbors. At least, that’s the way the text reads. I’m not sure how comfortable I am with that image of God. A God who regrets choosing God’s people. Who regrets saving them.
So, what do you think? Was there “buyer’s remorse’ going on? What are the consequences of that remorse by the various parties? And does that have ANYTHING to do with our lives today?
I was talking to a church member this week who shared with me how angry he was about the amount of time that passed between pastors in his congregation. Almost a year, just to get an interim pastor! In hindsight, though, he shared that God must’ve known the value of the time between. It was in that between time that the congregation grew to be ready and eager for the work they will do with their new long–term temporary pastor (how’s that for an oxymoron?) There’s a saying in pastoral transitions — “you can’t say hello, until you’ve said goodbye.”
Close to a year ago my father asked to bring his new “woman friend” to Thanksgiving dinner. I thank God for her words of wisdom, “it’s too soon.” Only Dad can determine the rightness of timing in his relationship, but for me, she was right; it was too soon. I hadn’t yet grieved the death of my mother. I was still saying goodbye. I told him, “I don’t have room in my heart yet to welcome someone new into my life.” Now, nearly a year later, I am much more ready to say hello.
The time between times and the space between spaces … that’s what the Israelite’s wandering was. And just like all of our transition times, it was a time of moaning and groaning. Just read the statuses of Facebook users after a new software update … We don’t like transition. A good leader of change knows this … that we need time and space to adjust … that there are some are early adopters and others who are slow to warm up.
Maybe God knew that the people of Israel weren’t really ready to move into the promised land when the spies came back with words of pessimism … with a desire to go back and a fear of going forward. Or maybe he was just mad that he had done so much for these people, and they didn’t appreciate his generosity. Either way, the Israelites were in the “liminal” time and space … the time between what they were and what they’d become, the space between where they’d been and where they’re going. One spiritual director described that liminality as the door jam … no longer in the living room, but not yet in the bedroom … on the edge. Another speaker said it’s like the summer between High School and college … looking forward to what’s coming, but yearning for what was.
Neither the Israelites nor God were happy in this desert place. It was a time of complaining. A time of dis-comfort and dis-ease. It was not life as they knew it. We see God and Moses wrestling with what to do next. Moses argues with God, and persuades God to forgive and save the people. It’s a time in which the relationship between God and his people is forged stronger. The “stiff-necked” people of Israel are “broken” and re-shaped by God during this time in the desert. The people are wandering, but not without purpose. They are, as they will be time and time again, “waiting on the Lord.” Their will must yield to God’s will; they must not only be open to, but trust God’s leadership.
It’s only after the memory of Egypt becomes history that the people are ready to move into the new land, to trust in the Lord in battle, to follow his commands and be obedient to him. A generation passes; everyone who had experienced life as an adult in Egypt died before God senses they are ready. And, we are reminded, God never abandoned them — not in Egypt, not in the desert. God was with them, and God provided for them … They weren’t comfortable, but their needs were met … They didn’t have bread and wine, but the soles of their sandals never wore out. Gods love for them will never wear out, no matter how stiff-necked they are. They had said goodbye to Egypt more than forty years ago, but they weren’t ready to say hello to the land of milk and honey until they had spent this time in the space between.
This week we’ll be reading the story of the Israelites wandering in the desert. That’s Chapter 6: Wandering. For those reading along in your own Bible, the references are: Numbers 10-14; 20-21; 25; 27; Deuteronomy 1-2; 4; 6; 8-9; 29-32; 34.