I hear a lot of talk—and a lot of fear and anger and frustration—about social change. Things aren’t the way they used to be, and a lot of people find the situation deeply troubling.
Things always change; that’s a fact of life. Most of us have the experience of going back to a familiar place—a house, a school, a church, an employer—and noticing that while the physical plant is largely the same, we no longer know any of the people. The disconnect is jarring.
But broader cultural changes, driven by technology, by societal mores, by artistic expression, by a thousand other things, are even more unsettling. When the whole world changes, there are no familiar places to go back to.
The sense of dislocation is exacerbated by the indisputable fact that the pace of change is accelerating. I realized a few years back that when my father was born in 1918 in a homestead ranch cabin on the Western frontier, daily life was largely unchanged from life in Jesus’ time—or even Abraham’s. You got water from a well or a river; you grew your own food, using animals to do the most difficult physical labor; you cooked that food over a fire; you walked or rode carts pulled by animals; you did your excretory business in a hole in the ground a little ways off from the house.
Dad lived to be 90. In that one lifespan, he saw pretty much everything that’s changed since the ancient world. He rode in an automobile; he helped build highways; he rode and worked on trains, both coal-fired and diesel electric; he helped build Grand Coulee Dam; he learned to fly airplanes; he worked in newspaper publishing from the days of hot lead Linotype to digital; and with a little help from his son, he navigated on Google Earth to see the old homestead on Sandy Creek, just upriver from Salmon, Idaho.
All in one lifetime.
And in the mere decade and a half since, what social, cultural, medical, and financial changes have occurred!
Some people feel like we’re accelerating headlong toward a precipice, uncontrolled and uncontrollably.
And on the heels of such thoughts inevitably come fear, despair, desperation, rage.
My brethren, these things ought not so to be.
We forget—so easily—that there is providence: that there is a God, who is mighty and wise and loving, who directs all things—even things like the Babylonian and Roman destructions of Jerusalem, even things like wars and pandemics and famines and corruption as deep as we can imagine—he directs all things to his own good ends and the benefit of his people.
Nothing is headlong; nothing is uncontrolled; nothing is cause for existential despair.
And if nothing on such a macroscopic scale should bring despair, then what about those narrower, more personal changes and challenges? Should we lose hope when our own lives take difficult turns, change in unexpected, undesirable, and indecipherable ways?
There are many accounts of significant changes in the biblical narrative. I suppose the death of Jesus was the most significant—and even there we find that it was not only part of God’s plan, but it was in fact at the very center of that plan. We wonder, here in hindsight, why those thick-headed disciples just didn’t get it.
Of the many other examples, I’d like to focus on just one.
Moses was a leader for the ages. Specially selected (Ex 3) and then empowered by God, he brought the mightiest ruler in the world of that day to his knees through a series of miraculous plagues, then organized perhaps 2 million people for travel, then parted the Red Sea, brought water out of a desert rock, and saw to their organized government under unimaginably contrary conditions during 40 years of wandering the desert.
And then, over a century old, he brought them through hostile territories to the edge of Canaan, the promised land. The new generation and the new army were about to take on the Canaanite peoples who had so frightened their parents.
Time to get busy and get this thing done.
Moses isn’t coming. In fact, he’s dead.
The new leader is Joshua, someone with no chief executive experience, with little military command experience.
How is this going to work?
I’d like to spend a few posts thinking about how God handled this transition.