When I was a kid, I loved going to Vacation Bible School every summer. I used to bring my friends with me, and together, we had a lot of fun doing many activities. Among those many activities, I remember one simple and meaningful activity. That was called “the game of trust.” It’s like a blindfold game played by a group of three.
In the group, two persons become the navigators and the other the follower. But the follower needs to cover the eyes with a blindfold while the navigators guide him/her to a destination. On the way, the group meets a maze with obstacles, steps, and walls. So the navigators must be very attentive and carefully guide the follower. And the follower should trust and hold onto the navigators to get to the destination safely.
In reality, however, this activity didn’t go as the teachers expected. My friends and I, we were just a bunch of mischievous kids who were always more than ready to play a prank on each other. So what do you expect from these kids when they have a prime chance to do anything to their friends wearing a blindfold? As you can imagine, my friends had a good time leading me to bump against a wall and trip over obstacles on purpose. And of course, I did the same to them too. Yes, we had a lot of fun. And because it was so funny that I can still recall what this activity was all about. The whole point of the game was about the trust—most importantly, our trust in God. Playing the follower, we got to think about how important it is to trust God when we cannot see anything. Playing the navigator, we got to feel how God closely guides us and cares for us when we walk on an uncertain way.
For sure, it was a fun and meaningful activity for kids. But as I thought about the game last week, I found that if we could do it now, it would be also quite meaningful and even more relevant to us, grown-ups. It would give us a great opportunity to reflect on our trust in God when we walk in darkness, when we cannot see any possibility like we are wearing a blindfold. Indeed, the longer we live our lives, the more challenges we face in trusting God and the more doubts we have about our faith. Kids may just play this game of trust at Vacation Bible School, but grown-up believers would realize that our whole life is, to a certain degree, the game of trust full of walls and obstacles.
In today’s Hebrew Bible reading, we see the people of Israel who are tired of their uncertain journey in the wilderness after the exodus. They complain to God and Moses that they cannot trust God anymore, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and we detest this miserable food” (Numbers 21:5). This is not their first time. They have spoken against God many times before. And one time God even appeared at the tabernacle and said to Moses, “How long will this people despise me? And how long will they refuse to believe in me, in spite of all the signs that I have done among them?” (Numbers 14:11-12). God’s argument makes good sense here. How can the people of Israel possibly complain and not trust God? They witnessed God’s mighty power to liberate them from the slavery in Egypt; they saw and walked on the dry ground through the middle of the sea; they experienced close guidance of God in the wilderness. How can they possibly complain and not trust God? We may ask. And some of us may think it is right for God to punish them by sending poisonous serpents to bite them. Yes, they seem to deserve it.
However, as we read their story, we should not forget that they were not a group of unfaithful or disloyal people; they were ordinary people just like us. Yes, they experienced all kinds of miracles, but they have been wandering around the wilderness for forty years—not forty days. You would probably think that the Promised Land is really far from Egypt. But surprisingly, it’s less than 400 miles. Google Maps tells us that it takes about six days to travel by foot. Nonetheless, they had to spend forty years in the wilderness. (4) Look at this route of their travel.
They wandered and took the longest possible roundabout route. Anyway, the people of Israel finally arrived the edge of the Promised Land, the Mount Hor. They couldn’t wait any longer. They were ready to take their blindfold off and see the long-awaited destination. But at this mountain, God asks them to go around again. And that was it. They lost their mind and lost their faith.
On our journey of faith, we, like this people of Israel, experience some moments when we want to throw in the towel, give up everything, and just walk out. When we continuously meet tragedies and crises, experience fears, and uncertainties in our lives, when we are deeply hurt by someone, when there seems no hope of change, when we feel that God doesn’t answer our prayers, when our joy gets overwhelmed by our duties, when there is no spiritual renewal in our lives but only wandering in the wilderness, we lose our trust in God. We say, “I am done,” “I am sick of doing this.” At these moments of despair, what can we do? How can we hold onto our faith?
At those moments, I hope we remind ourselves of the simple game of trust. If we compare our life to the game of trust, we must be the followers who should wear a blindfold. True, as humans, we live with a certain kind of blindfold blocking our sight. Life is always uncertain and the future is always unforeseeable. We don’t know what’s going to happen and we don’t know how our journey would unfold. But anyway, the game is on already. We have to take our steps. So it doesn’t really help us to focus on the fact that we cannot see. There will be more fear, anxiety, and despair that overwhelm us and stop us from moving forward. This same thing happened to the people of Israel.
What can we do then? One thing we can do is…to shift our focus away from what we cannot see, from the unknown obstacles and walls on our uncertain way, and then, try to focus on the things that we can surely see. As Christians, we see, there is the Navigator beside us, the navigator who provide us the guiding arms. We see, whatever we are going through, this Navigator, our God is always with us. And we see, this God loves us and gives us the everlasting light through Jesus Christ. Jesus says in today’s Gospel reading, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life” (John 3:16).
Sisters and brothers in Christ, along life’s uncertain journey, we may have many challenges, and we may lose our trust in God. But that’s the moment when we need to shift our focus from what we cannot see to what we can see. And that’s the moment when we need to see the lifted Jesus who eternally assures God’s love for us, and God’s presence in our lives. Begin from what we can surely see. From there, we will be able to take our step forward with courage and faith again. And I am sure that as we trust our Navigator, we will find confidence and joy in our hearts. So let us trust the Lord leaning on the everlasting arms always. Amen.
Pastor Earl Kim