So close. But so far away.
It has been about thirty years since Jacob originally set an altar in Bethel and vowed to return. Thirty years since he manipulated his father and stole his brother’s blessing. Thirty years since he feared Esau’s revenge so much that he fled his father’s household. Thirty years since he cried out to God in crisis:
If God will be with me and will watch over me on this journey I am taking and will give me food to eat and clothes to wear so that I return safely to my father’s household, then the LORD will be my God (Genesis 28:20-21)
We love to bargain in a crisis. Don’t we? But just like Jacob, it’s easy to forget our end of the deal as soon as life gets comfortable again…as soon as we become less desperate.
So, when the time comes for Jacob to leave Laban, God let’s him know that it is also time to go back to the land of your fathers and to your relatives
…to return to Bethel. Genesis doesn’t really explain why, but Jacob stops about 30 miles short of his destination and makes his home in Shechem. Maybe because he forms productive business relationships and sees the potential for a comfortable lifestyle. Regardless of his reasons, it’s not where he’s supposed to be.
He was close. But still so far away. And for ten years he’s comfortable. For ten years, his family accumulates foreign gods and intermarries with people who don’t know or worship the one true God. Then tragedy strikes, with the rape of his daughter and the violence of his sons. And suddenly, Jacob wakes up. It shakes him out of complacency and remembers Bethel. He remembers God.
Why does it seem that pain is a necessary reminder of how much we need God? I need him just as much in comfortable times as in tragedy. But his voice seems louder and more convincing when I’m afraid. It’s in times of trial that I become so willing to burn my idols and cry out to him.
But here’s the thing. While it’s okay, and even necessary, for me to cry out to God in times of crises, Genesis Thirty Five is a piercing reminder that it’s equally necessary for me to cry out to him when I’m comfortable. I don’t want to miss my mark. I don’t want to be so swept-away by convenience that I stop short of God’s perfect purpose. And the only way to be sure, is to lay down my idols every day…and to seek him with passion in pain and in plenty.