By Cloud and By Fire
Tony R. Nester
If you look in the back of most Bibles sold today in this country you'll find a set of maps. One of my favorites is the map that shows the route of the Exodus -- the path the Israelites took from Egypt through the wilderness and into the Promised Land.
What I like most about the map is that squiggly line that shows that our faith journeys rarely follow a straight line. Verse 18 tells us that God led the people by a "roundabout path".
Jesus called people to follow him, but he never promised that discipleship would follow straight lines, easy pathways, or clearly marked routes.
The British psychoanalyst D. W. Winnicott was once approached by Anglican priests and asked how they could know when one of their parishioners needed spiritual counsel, and when, instead, they should be referred to a psychiatrist.
He paused, and then responded, "If a person comes and talks to you and, listening to him, you feel that he sustains your interest, no matter how grave his distress or conflict, then you can help him.... But if he is boring you, then he is sick and needs psychiatric treatment."
What this psychiatrist meant, I think, was that a person of faith may have difficulties and experience dilemmas; they may suffer and go through dark days; but they are not mired in a faithless, self-centered misery. People of faith do not lead boring lives. They are exodus people.
When the Israelites left Egypt God began to guide them. Verses 21 and 22 speak of the "pillar of cloud" that led them by day and the "pillar of fire" that led them by night.
If you want you can imagine the cloud and the fire as a literal column of cloud and fire. I'm not at all sure that this is how the writer intended us to interpret his words. I am sure that this scripture wants us to believe that God was guiding His people, and that Moses constantly sought to gain a sense of where God wanted them to go next.
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