“I do not want you to be unaware, brothers and sisters, that our ancestors were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual rock that followed them, and the rock was Christ. Nevertheless, God was not pleased with most of them, and they were struck down in the wilderness.” (I Corinthians 10:1-5)
The writer of I Corinthians is warning his reader that while their spiritual forebearers may seem to have been formidable examples of servanthood and faithful living, they failed when put to the test. He is speaking of the Israelites who were lead out of Egypt by God and Moses. And for the readers in the time that I Corinthians was written, they had the same guidance and inspiration that the liberated Israelites had. Why, might one ask, was God “not pleased”? The writer of I Corinthians goes on to explain that.
“Now these things occurred as examples for us, so that we might not desire evil as they did. Do not become idolaters as some of them did; as it is written, “The people sat down to eat and drink, and they rose up to play.” We must not indulge in sexual immorality as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in a single day. We must not put Christ to the test, as some of them did, and were destroyed by serpents. And do not complain as some of them did, and were destroyed by the destroyer.” (Verses 6 – 10)
If one reads the book of Exodus, it seems that none of them – except for Moses and Joshua and some of that inner circle – were able to follow God as God wanted them to. Makes me sort of nervous for you and I, beloved reader. How can we do any better how to live lives that are acceptable to God? Do we have better or deeper knowledge than they did? Is it easier for us to follow God in our world than it was for them? Are we less tempted or of better temperament than they? What do we have that they do not?
The answer is, really, that we are not much different than they – not really. At least, not the way the writer of I Corinthians explains it. The only difference is that we have a clearly written out remedy for when we are “sinful” people. All the guess work has been taken out.
“These things happened to them to serve as an example, and they were written down to instruct us, on whom the ends of the ages have come. So if you think you are standing, watch out that you do not fall. No testing has overtaken you that is not common to everyone.” (Verses 11- 12)
This is, I think, both scary and reassuring. We may feel like we are wandering around in a “desert”; if we feel that we, we have much in common with the Israelites. But it is also scary because they failed when tested. The writer of I Corinthians tried to assure his readers, and by extension us . . .
“God is faithful, and he will not let you be tested beyond your strength, but with the testing he will also provide the way out so that you may be able to endure it.” (Verses 13)
However I can’t help but feel that is some sort of “pie in the sky by and by”; why am I cynical about this you may ask? If this is the same God, and the same “rock” that is Christ, how can we be sure that we can endure it when the people God called out of Egypt could not? I know, same question that I posed before. But the answer I gave, beloved reader, is not based on our strength and ability but God’s! I know! Same answer that the writer of I Corinthians gave! There must be something between the two answers!!
And there is . . . . grace and mercy; confession, penance, and forgiveness. It is that the writer of I Corinthians is alluding to, and which I had not stated clearly. We may well be tested beyond our strength and fall flat on our face in the desert. I cannot say with the writer of I Corinthians (okay, Paul) that we will be able to endure the testing. It seems like I have been tested so many times in my life, and I know where I have failed that test. There was no escape hatch; but there was grace and mercy, and restoration from my failures. And maybe that is what Paul meant. When I do finally move beyond that testing that is in this life to the life that is beyond, I will ask Paul.
In the meantime, beloved reader, hold tight to your Lord and to the grace and mercy that is in the Lord. May you feel that especially in this season of Lent. Selah!