It’s hard to be shut out. It’s hard to be the one (or the family) whose name isn’t on the guest list, the one who is pointedly ignored in the meeting, the one on the roster of workers about to lose their jobs in the downsizing.
The value of faith does not lie in the measure of success that it brings us. The value of faith resides in the hope and life that it brings during times of despair. And the steadiness and life that it brings during times of joy.
As Margaret (Fell) Fox wrote in 1690, while she and George Fox were enduring a series of imprisonments, “[Those who] keep single and chaste unto [God] need not fear evil tidings, nor what men can do, for He that hath all power in heaven and earth in His hand will surely keep His own . . . safe, as in the hollow of His hand.”
Aaron, brother of Moses, was driving a bus full of Israelites through the murderous heat of the desert, supposedly heading towards the Promised Land (supposedly flowing with milk and honey), when Moses said, “Stop” – because God said, “Stop.” God told Moses to climb up that mountain and reset the signal on his compass. Then God told Aaron and the people to wait on the road in that murderous heat until Moses returned. The people waited forty days and forty nights, and then they got fed up.
Now, Aaron was the guy with the big personality; Moses was the guy who stuttered. Aaron was the tour guide; Moses was the navigator. Aaron just wanted to keep everybody happy, including himself. And there was that casino down the road. Why not celebrate their big win over Pharaoh? Why not la la la la la la live for today? So the people went down to The Golden Calf, and they celebrated wealth and wine and winning. They celebrated celebration! They forgot about that loser Moses. In fact, they decided intentionally to forget about Moses.
Well, God sent Moses back down the mountain, and He and Moses were furious. Vengefully furious. They caused tablet-smashing and idol-melting and ash-water-drinking and the murder of three thousand brothers and friends and neighbors. “And the Lord struck the people with a plague because of what they did . . . Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘Leave this place, you and the people you brought up out of Egypt . . . Go up to the land flowing with milk and honey. But I will not go with you, because you are a stiff-necked people, and I might destroy you on the way.’”
This is hardly a God I want holding me in the hollow of his hand. But the real danger lies in following people who travel without navigation. There are some who set their courses by the Living Word, but others seem only to follow personal whims. And throughout all times and places, there are some who set their courses while they wield enormous earthly power.
Callous rulers today are much the same as they have always been. Margaret Fell’s words to King Charles in 1666 could easily be directed to the U.S. Administration in 2018: “I desire you also to consider seriously, in the fear of the Lord, what effects and fruits [your ruling has] brought forth. I believe it hath brought hundreds of God’s people to their graves; it hath also rendered this realm, and the governance of it, cruel in the eyes of all people, both within its own body and in other nations; besides, the guilt of innocent blood lies upon this kingdom.”
We need not aspire to victory over tyrants. We need not calculate which actions will show us at our good-hearted best. For as Friends realized “at the first appearance of truth among us . . . we saw perfectly that there was no safety, nor preservation out of sin and transgression, but as we obeyed the light, and followed it in our heats and consciences . . . And so we came to discern between the precious and the vile, and between the holy and the unclean, and between the chaff and the wheat; and between those that served God, and those that served him not.” (Margaret Fox, circa 1690).
Let us wait patiently to receive the Word of Life and, when we are called to move towards the precious and the holy, let us step forward in confidence. Let us not fear evil tidings, but feel safe to endure them.