One often finds in epic literature the hero who must trek through wilderness on his way to conquest and glory. Jason. Ulysses. Bilbo, Frodo and Sam*. When they set out on their journeys, none of them knew what besides adventure lay ahead. The wilds of their respective worlds were nothing more than incidental obstacles.
“Who are you? Give us an answer to take back to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?”
John replied in the words of Isaiah the prophet, “I am the voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way for the Lord.’”
I read these words as a sophomore in college and I knew—in that soul-deep kind of knowing—that in them I would find who God made me to be. It was that knowledge that drove me to seek understanding on a spiritual walkabout of my own.
My own wanderings in the hinterlands were not, I think, a banishment for sin, like the ancient Hebrews experienced. Neither do I think I was sent out to be tempted like the Christ. I set off—much like those men and hobbits did—with a spring in my step, uncertain of my own ability, but rightly knowing it takes courage to plumb the depths of the soul in search of God. I was undoubtedly immature and naïve. It all seemed so romantic at the time.
Now I’m just tired. I’m ready to walk out of the wilderness and into a season of rest. And so it was with Joshua and the Israelites, the weeping prophet Jeremiah, and all the heroes of our favorite epic literature.
“I wish I was at home in my nice home by the fire, with the kettle just beginning to sing!” It was not the last time that he wished that!
- Bilbo Baggins in The Hobbit, J.R.R. Tolkien
I was thinking about all of this yesterday when I realized something: I have misunderstood the purpose of wilderness wandering. My wandering has not been any more incidental than it was for the great heroes of literature. They found no rest when they walked out of the wilderness. They were weary, battered, hungry and cold…and they were in for the fight of their lives.
What makes each of these characters heroes is that they each saw their journey through to the end. And so shall I. The author and perfecter of our faith finished writing this story a long time ago, and He is relentless in His desire to see each character in it through to the very end. The best stories never end quite like we expect them to do, and I am certain that this story we're now in is the best of them all.
* I feel certain that some of you just spewed a bit of coffee or lunch on your iDevice. The Lord of The Rings may not yet rank in the pantheon, but I think in time we will find Tolkien's magnum opus there alongside the great Greeks. Also, I hope you will grant license to the one who humbly finds the meaning of his own story in the stories of these great heroes of old.