"When Pharaoh let the people go, God did not lead them on the road through the Philistine country, though that was shorter. For God said, 'If they face war, they might change their minds and return to Egypt.' So God led the people around by the desert road toward the Red Sea." - Exodus 13:17-18 (NIV)
One of my seminary professors, Dr. Fred Craddock, used to tell us that the greatest distance in life is the distance between head and heart. There is indeed a great distance between what we know cognitively in our heads and what we know viscerally in our hearts. I think it's the basic difference between knowledge and instinct.
Cognitively, the Israelites knew that they had been set free from Egyptian bondage, but that knowledge alone would never make them free. Unless they experienced a liberation of their inner selves they would continue to be enslaved to the Pharaohs of their own fears.
It is much easier to take the slave out of Egypt than it is to take Egypt out of the slave.
So God led them the long way around, in order to give them ample opportunity to confront and defy the inner demons that held them in bondage. God alone led them through the lonely desert in order to allow them time and space to thoroughly deal with the contradictions and inconsistencies that were deeply embedded in their own characters.
Consequently, the journey from Egypt to Judea that could have taken forty days actually took them forty years.
There are always easier and faster ways for us to get where we want to go. But the best routes are always through self-awareness, introspection and self-development. It takes a lot longer, but the journey of self-actualization is definitely worth the trip.
Dear God, the next time we demand to know "Are we there yet?", help us to take a long sober look at our own fearful contradictions and discern if we are really prepared for the destination. Amen.
Taken from UCC's StillSpeaking Devotionals. Visit UCC.org