A couple of weeks ago, my dad sent me a wonderful video [1]:




At the end, I turned to Peter. “That was beautiful. Too bad it pobably won’t happen.”

Was I just being cynical? I think not. You see, human beings are very good at adapting to their circumstances. During lockdown, we’ve been thrilled to see kindness proliferating. But when this time is over, it’s far more likely that we’ll simply revert to our old ways and experience little, if any, lasting change.

In the same way that people revert to their high school selves at class reunions, we tend to revert to our former selves when immersed in old, familiar situations. This time has been emotionally and financially painful for many of us, and chances are good that we’ll be all too eager to forget these months of hardship when they’re finally over.

As I see it, the danger is not that we’ll go back to all the old nastiness of our former lives. It’s that it will get worse.

Our culture tends to glorify victimhood. It’s attractive to be a victim because then we can make excuses for our behaviour. We can extract ourselves from taking responsibility for our own actions. We feel the world somehow owes us compensation for the things we’ve suffered. Victims are given a lot of leeway. Others have a social obligation to accommodate us. We might feel that victimhood gives us a VIP pass to a special life.

But I can tell you without a shadow of a doubt that this mentality is the fastest way to mental unhealthiness and a very unhappy, unfulfilled life. Once upon a time, I too engaged in this sort of thinking. It was disastrous.

Here’s the thing: post-coronavirus, it’s possible for all of us to consider ourselves as victims in some way. We might think of ourselves as victims of neighbours who refuse to self-isolate, of a government that imposes restrictions we don’t agree with, of bosses and companies that laid us off, or even of the virus itself.

If we become a society of “victims”, that beautiful video will not only not come true. The complete opposite will happen. The psychological carnage will be beyond imagining.

How should we, as Christians, react? How can we hope to exit this time in an emotionally-whole, spiritually-healthy way?

We can learn the answer by examining the lives of the ancient Israelites who were freed from slavery in Egypt. There’s no question that they suffered horrendously. They were the people of God, yet they still suffered.

The scriptures hint that the Israelites blamed God for their former suffering and captivity. Though God mercifully freed them, this wasn’t good enough for His people. Rather than reacting with sustained gratitude and submitting themselves to Him, they took the mentality, "We are Your chosen people, yet You let us suffer. You owe us!”

They complained at everything, tested God continually, made false gods to worship, threatened the lives of the leaders God had given them, and more. They adopted a sense of entitlement, deep ingratitude, and a lack of wonder at everything that God was doing for them. When God finally had enough, and refused to allow them to enter the Promised Land, He told them that their children would enter in their stead. Even then, their rebellion was not over.

The Bible tells us that they didn’t circumcise their children. [2] Circumcision was a physical sign of the covenant between God and His people. Those who were circumcised bore on their bodies an affirmation of the old agreement: “We will be Your people and You will be our God.” [3] Not circumcising their children was the older generation's final insolence. [4]

They were essentially saying: "You let us suffer in slavery in Egypt, and then You brought us out to suffer in the desert. You promised us Canaan, but then You wouldn't let us enter. You owed us, but You broke Your promises. You called us Your chosen people, but You have broken Your covenant with us. We are no longer Your people, and we refuse to mark ourselves as Your people.”

These attitudes, of course, ignore all of the Israelites' disobedience, ingratitude, and lack of trust. They also ignore that God did keep His promises by bringing the next generation into the Promised Land. But that's how we get when we start to feel self-righteous. We need to be careful not to let God's blessing and deliverance engender entitlement and ingratitude rather than humility and thanksgiving. How deceived we can become when we allow a sense of entitlement to govern our outlook.

After suffering, entitlement can grow in our hearts like a weed. If we’re not alert to its dangers, it can take over the entire garden.

The best “weed killer” we have at our disposal is gratitude. When we spray it liberally into every corner, when we soak our souls in its heady perfume, our hearts and lives are infused with humility and praise to the One who has set us free from slavery to sin into the freedom of the glory of the children of God. [6]

Now we have a choice. Will we be like the Israelites who left Egypt, or like those who entered Canaan? The contrast between the crossing of the Red Sea and the crossing of the Jordan is stark. One generation always complained, always grumbled, always doubted God [7]. The other stepped forth in trust and praise and allowed their God to delight and amaze them [8]. Who do we want to be?




NOTES

[1] From https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Nw5KQMXDiM4&app=desktop.

[2] Joshua 5:2.

[3] Genesis 17:7, Exodus 6:7.

[4] Don’t let it escape your notice that all of those generations who suffered slavery without being freed were more faithful than the one that was actually freed (and thus should have been most grateful). [5]

[5] Joshua 5:2 says, "circumcise Israel a second time", implying that before the Israelites stopped, circumcision was continuous since Abraham. In Exodus 4:6, when Zipporah circumcised Moses' son, it seems that this was the expected norm. Sometime between the birth of Moses’ son and the entry into Canaan, circumcision had halted.

[6] Romans 8:21.

[7] Exodus 14.

[8] Joshua 3.

(Picture source for summary)