• Matthew Norman

Thought For Today – by Rev David Ager

“When Pharaoh let the people go, God did not lead them by way of the land of the Philistines, though that was nearer…God led the people by the roundabout way of the wilderness…” Exodus 13:17-18

As I set out on my bike into the country lanes the other day, to get my once-a-day permitted exercise, it seemed to me that I passed more than the usual number of people also on bikes, or walking the lanes. Sometimes it takes the suggestion of something, the permission to do it and the prohibition of alternatives to get us started. What may have always been a good idea in principle suddenly becomes something we actually do.

Without a doubt taking regular exercise, appreciating the beauty of creation all around us, just leaving behind for a time the frenetic activity which has come to mark the pattern of life for so many can only bring benefit. It would be ironic if it were something representing such an enormous threat to our health that became the very occasion of our discovering the health and life-giving blessings of a different set of priorities.

As God’s ancient people were fleeing Egypt, with Pharaoh and his army in hot pursuit, there was a direct way for their exit route. Surely God would take them along it? But no, says the book of Exodus: he led them by “the roundabout way”. What was he thinking? Why make it longer when time was so critical?

If we read on, we learn that it was because God knew that the direct route would face them with something that might easily weaken their resolve to leave behind their captivity and make them return to it.

The onward march of the Coronavirus is intrinsically evil; what attacks and destroys human health is not the will of our Creator God, for it does not belong to the goodness that God saw when he surveyed his work on the seventh day. But what if going through these extraordinarily challenging times, and submitting to all the restrictions imposed, were to make us look again at the way we have come to live our lives, and the mind-set which suggests we own the world we live in and can succeed in anything that we set our minds to?

If we learned to kneel humbly before the one who made us and on whom we depend for life and let him direct the road ahead? Might it in some measure redeem the pain and terror of going by this “roundabout way”?

It was while in prison in Taiwan that the Presbyterian minister Chun-Ming Kao is said to have written these words:

“I asked the Lord for a bunch of fresh flowers, but instead he gave me an ugly cactus with many thorns. I asked the Lord for some beautiful butterflies but instead he gave me many ugly and dreadful worms. I was threatened; I was disappointed; I mourned. But after many days I saw the cactus bloom with many beautiful flowers, and those worms became beautiful butterflies flying in the spring wind. God’s way is the best way.”

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