“Scar Gazing” was the title of a devotional I read in “Power for Today.” Immediately, I was intrigued with how the change of one letter in a common phrase sent me on a different learning path. In that devo, Steven Lemley, co-editor, focused on Apostle Paul’s encouragement to the Philippians where Paul gave an attitude update on himself, “Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus” (3:13-14).
Dreadful pasts, have poisonous drawing powers beyond our understandings. Why do we return in our minds to hurtful times and replay them again. I think that’s what Lemley had in mind when he dubbed such events as “scar-gazing.” After reading his thoughts, I recalled an Old Testament story, reflecting scar-gazing and moving forward.
Several times in Israel’s history, they looked back and longed for their former miserable lives. Exodus 14, describes one such scene. God had led the Israelites away from Egypt and out of generational bondage, lasting for over 400 years. He purposefully had Moses cause the hundreds of thousands of people to encamp “between Migdol and the sea.”
God knew that Pharaoh would think that the Israelites were wandering aimlessly in the desert, and Pharaoh, having his umpteenth change of heart, would order his army to pursue the newly freed slaves. Apparently, the former miracles performed in Egypt were not enough to convince the Egyptians of God’s sovereignty.
When the Israelites camped beside the sea, fearful and cautious, they looked behind them. I don’t blame them. The past chases us down sometime. They saw all Pharaoh’s six hundred best chariots and all the other chariots bearing down on their encampment. “They were terrified and cried out to the Lord.” They also complained to their leader Moses as they did a bit of scar gazing: “Was it because there were not graves in Egypt that you brought us out into the desert to die? What have you done to us?” Did graves in Egypt suddenly look better than the unknown plans of traveling with God?
They were “used ruthlessly” as slaves under harsh Egyptian taskmasters (1:14). For goodness sake, only a generation back the Egyptians threw the Israelites’ newborn sons into the Nile River like yesterday’s garbage! Atrocious annihilation! Hadn’t God proved his majestic capabilities? Even so, they chose to look back to their wounded past. Sometimes, what we’ve known seems better than an unknown future.
Faithful Moses assured the people that God would not abandon them in this current crisis. He told them, “Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the Lord will bring you today.” He went on to say they would never see the Egyptians again. He added, “The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.”
I love what the Lord God said to them after Moses’ instructions to stand firm and only be still. In seeming contradiction, God said to Moses, “Why are you crying out to me, tell the Israelites to move on.” God instructed Moses to stretch his staff over the sea, and all that “night the Lord drove the sea back with a strong east wind and turned it into dry land.”
The Israelites found themselves with no seeming escape. They couldn’t physically get to another place, but maybe God was asking more of them. Perhaps he was asking for a heart change, a different mindset. Maybe he was asking for faith-growth – upward to God, to move on in their minds. With God’s rescue from Egypt, evidently he had them in his radar. In addition, they had assurance that God could also move them from fearing and thinking about the Egyptians.
I wouldn’t have wanted to be a slave back then, even a rescued slave, but I admit to wishing I could have been present for that night’s unfolding events. The pillar of cloud that had previously led Israel moved and became a barrier between them and the Egyptians. To the enemies, the pillar appeared as blackest night blotting out all. On the other side of the pillar of cloud, fire illuminated the Israelite’s camp.
Scar-gazing, too much and we drown in past mistakes and sorrows. Blessed is the humble follower, who chooses to God-gaze, imagining future possibilities within his amazing grace.
Hunger for Humility (Week 39): “But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil.” (Hebrews 5:14)
Cathy Messecar welcomes comments at www.cathymessecar.com