The Ballad of Already and Not Yet

I’ve been struggling to craft a gripping yet encouraging essay on Christian life in the wilderness—about how even though we’re thoroughly dissatisfied by this “already, but not yet” crap, we can cling to the Lord’s promises of new, deep, satisfying streams in the desert. I find I’ve produced a disjointed journal entry instead, and I’m okay with that.

I’m wandering in the wilderness, clumsily navigating the dichotomous life of the redeemed:

“For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am!”
– Romans 7:22-24

I’m quick to quote Uncle Screwtape’s 8th letter to Wormwood when encouraging other believers on their own journeys through the undulating wilderness sands:

“Do not be deceived, Wormwood. Our cause is never more in danger than when a human, no longer desiring, but still intending, to do our Enemy’s will, looks round upon a universe from which every trace of Him seems to have vanished, and asks why he has been forsaken, and still obeys.”
– Screwtape Letters, C.S. Lewis

Even still, earlier this week, I found myself in the Kroger parking lot informing God that it was time for Him to switch up how He uses me to further His Kingdom. “Father God, my ‘very particular set of skills’ has been used quite well in the past, but I’m ready for You to ‘complete Your good work in me’ and use another person with their own ‘very particular set of skills.’ I didn’t consent to this plan and it’s not really working for me anymore. Thanks. Amen.”

“Then the Lord spoke to Job out of the storm…” (Job 38 and onward)

I appreciate the reassurance that God is glorified by our obedience in light of His apparent absence, but the thing is, sometimes I don’t obey. I see traces of the Lord, but decide to ignore them. I hear His voice in the distance, but I don my Bose headphones and wander off in a different direction. What then?

Here’s “what then”:

“But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him.”
— Luke 15:20

When wandering, I’m often graced with the desire to seek (and therefore I find) encouragement in St. John of the Cross’ contemplative re-working of the Song of Songs, Spiritual canticle of the soul and the bridegroom. Here, the human soul expresses her deep longings for her Beloved and eventually arrives at the long-awaited marriage supper of the Lamb. It’s helpful to view the whole journey at once rather than pixel-by-pixel in the way we live our lives.

Deep longings:

I. Where have You hidden Yourself, and abandoned me to my sorrow, O my Beloved! You have fled like the hart, having wounded me. I ran after You, crying; but You were gone.
IX. Why, after wounding this heart, have You not healed it? And why, after stealing it, have You thus abandoned it, and not carried away the stolen prey?
XI. Reveal Your presence, and let the vision and Your beauty kill me, behold the malady of love is incurable except in Your presence and before Your face.

Eventual arrival:

XXII. The bride has entered the pleasant and desirable garden, and there reposes to her heart's content; Her neck reclining on the sweet arms of the Beloved.
XXXII. When You regarded me, Your eyes imprinted in me Your grace: For this You loved me again, and thereby my eyes merited to adore what in You they saw

Several of my favorite worship songs are based on this same work: “Wounded” and “Vision of You” by Shane & Shane and “Vous êtes mon cœur” by Güngör.

The streams that the Lord forges in the wilderness (Isaiah 41 and 43) seem slow to deepen at times. Often the source of His provision is bitter and hard to swallow (Exodus 15) compared to the imitation milk and honey that other wilderness natives have settled for, rather than venturing further into His vast unknownness. If I have my choice of sustenance in a barren land, I’m all too often more likely to choose the one that tastes better right away, rather than the one that will “Capital Q” Quench my deepest longings for good. How do we hold out for the transformation of bitter streams into deep, quenching floods?

One day at a time.

The day is nearly over,
Tomorrow will come in its own time,
and God is on the throne of your heart.

Written by Adam Rice