Losing Joseph in Genesis and gaining Moses in Exodus seems like a reasonable exchange to me, though one that isn’t without tears.
The emotional crescendo of the Genesis narrative is one of the most moving parts of the Bible because it’s capped with the stunning revelation that God’s sovereign goodness included preserving a pagan multitude that would only ever loathe Him.
Then, turning the pages on from Joseph’s embalmment, we’re immediately met with the fire and fury of Pharaoh’s schizophrenia but, within just another fourteen chapters, also a deep respite on the far shores of the Red Sea.
The Contagious Compassion of God
The first nineteen chapters of Exodus grip us like a motion picture scored by sign and wonder, but then I think we all get a tad bored.
Chapters 20-32 of Exodus read more like the less-inspiring parts of Leviticus as The Ten Commandments and various laws, (including those of social justice), are detailed.
Perhaps unexpectedly, God’s forensic, task-focused attention to detail is then punctuated by a pointed moment of tender empathy.
Exodus 23:9 reads:
You shall not oppress a sojourner. You know the heart of a sojourner, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt
Foreshadowing Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians 1:4 and, as though via a detour reminiscent of Jesus’ encounter with blind Bartimaeus, God seems to stop mid-sentence and go out of His way to emphasise something that hadn’t been planned.
The exodus from Egypt was complete but the process of deliverance to Canaan had only just begun. God wanted Moses to ensure that his people understood the unique nature of the heart of a sojourner as a key to their long-term salvation.
The Unique Implications on Mental Health for the Christian
Coming back to the matters of law and social justice, our collective mental health is one of the biggest areas of focus within society at the moment, including current priorities within the NHS and pop culture to address dangerous prejudice and stereotype. (With a few exceptions, generally speaking, this is a good thing).
But with this dawning horizon – recognising our need to reflect on the condition of our minds as well as our bodies – have we stopped to consider the unique implications to mental health of the life-long pursuit and faith in Jesus?
I’m willing to be wrong, but I don’t think that we have.
Much is taught about the “victorious Christian life” and, quite rightly, the centrality of the mind of Christ within the joy of our new creation, but there are also unique challenges to our mental health precisely because of faith and spiritual sojourn.
Learning to Love Like Lucy
There is a type of homesickness that God means us to feel every single day, not so much as a thorn in our side but more as fragrance we carry, reminding us both of where we’re from and where we’re headed again. (For more on this, please read the introduction to John Piper’s book on fasting, here.)
C.S.Lewis also understood this homesickness and heart of sojourn well when he created Lucy’s character in The Lion the Witch & the Wardrobe. Of the four children, Lucy is the youngest but also the one who had the keenest sense of the realities – and divine delays – of Narnia.
However, more than just a Narnian hypersensitivity, Lucy has a special relationship with Aslan himself. It was Lucy who accompanied Aslan on his sojourn to the Stone Table and who rode with him after his resurrection from the dead, shattering the power of the deep magic.
It was also Lucy who withdrew at the end of the 2005 film adaption of Narnia, because, despite the coronation and revelry, she missed the presence of Aslan who’d slipped away unannounced. If I recall correctly, Susan comforted Lucy in that moment, as Aslan walked away along the beach, with the reminder that he would surely return.
Stages of Sojourn – sparing suicide
Just like Lucy and just like us, the Israelites were people without a home, living in a foreign land hoping for a final homecoming to the promised land of Canaan. They were even regarded as abominable by the pagan Egyptians, a sure foreshadowing of Matthew 10:22 and accusations of Christian ‘hate speech’ today. (Related reading on this here: )
When God tells the Hebrews not to oppress the sojourner, because of their own experiences in Egypt, He is commanding the people of God to keep firmly in mind what it felt like living in hopeful expectation of something better and something permanent – the fulfilled longing after the heart sickness of Proverbs 13:12.
Waiting for God can be distressing. Longing for Jesus can hurt. Trusting in Him can seem excruciating. But living faithfully through the stages of life in an anti-Christ world creates in us a mourning (Matthew 5:4) that seasons the joy of our salvation and anchors us for all eternity.
In Philippians 1:23, Paul has no hesitation in declaring that he would rather die and be with Jesus in fullness. Life here had nothing on that. Yet he was also convinced of the need and fruitfulness of his remaining for the Church.
My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better.
Symptoms and Contexts
It might be that you’re a missionary reading this and struggling to remain in a overseas culture with joy. It could be that you’re a foreign immigrant living in a land that’s not your own. It might even be that you’ve had to flee your homeland because of war.
Or, it might be that, like me, you have lived and followed Jesus for all your life and you sometimes get tired. You miss Him. You want to be with Him. You want to know the fullness of His presence and His power like nothing else on Earth. The brokenness and dysfunction of life as we now know it is, at times, overwhelming so that all we can pray and sing is, “Jesus, Come!”.
But, whatever the context, Peter offers this encouragement for our mental health in 1 Peter 1:8:
Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy,
Have you ever thought about the mental health implications of this verse?
It’s bittersweet because there is a in expressible and glorious joy but there is also a lifetime of not being with the One we love. We would do well to talk and sing much more publicly about this reality of our faith.
A Few Final Words
Have you ever considered these tucked-away words in Exodus 23? What did God have in mind when He referred to the heart of a sojourner and why was it that He wanted Moses to be mindful of his own heart of sojourn past Sinai?
I believe it was so that true Christian community might be the heaven-sent tonic to the heart-churning strain on the mental health of all true sojourners. This is why Christian community and “family” (the Church) has to be the real deal and not a fake social club.
Without wanting to write more than I need to – and I appreciate that I have probably raised more questions here than provided answers – I trust that the words of the Sons of Korah from Psalm 84 will provide all of us with much more than a cursory answer for our ‘here and now’.
Take some time to read the whole Psalm and especially the joyful nugget of gospel-truth in verse 5:
Blessed are those whose strength is in you, whose hearts are set on pilgrimage.
The setting of our hearts on sojourn, on pilgrimage, is the precise location of all that we need for the journey. Those whose strength is in God are those who are not only committed to sojourn, because of His irresistible grace, but who have a very clear vision of where they’re heading: to be with Christ (Aslan) Himself.
This is the heart and mental health of a Christain sojourner.
Let’s talk more.
(*Please leave your thoughts, below)