I’m Itching for Wild Places

I’m itching for wild places.

Unable to get out there I’ll try to scratch this itch as I’ve been trying to do for months now. A trip to the local outfitters—scratch. A poring over of a USGS topo map—scratch. Instagram photos of the same—scratch. A swipe through the dot com offerings of another outfitter—scratch. A book by Abbey, Krakauer, or Kerouac—scratch.

But the itch remains.

I know a man who itches. He has a rare liver disease. Pray for him. When things are going well and can keep the liver working, his fragile health holds. But when, as now, things aren’t going as hoped, the bile in his body slowly builds. He itches. And he scratches. But no amount of external scratching can remove this infernal internal itch.

Is that a window of sorts into my own soul, or what? Not only do I have heart disease—so says God’s Word (Jeremiah 17:9) and so knows the man in the mirror—but I also seem to have spiritual liver disease.

I Itch. I scratch. I scratch some more. And still I itch.

I’ve known and cared deeply for this same man for years now. I met him when I considering the ‘call’ to be the pastor of these people at this church. When next I met him it was bedside in the hospital as his pastor. I learned there of his liver disease. I learned that they were working with his liver now, but someday they’d need to work with another’s liver—a transplant. And then this man had nearly seven years of decent to good liver function. Nearly. Until recently.

Last Friday this man and his wife traveled to speak with his team of doctors. A transplant is no longer the fallback, it’s the only way forward. Getting on ‘the list’ is tricky—you have to be sick enough, but not too sick. The wait is often long; the results are mixed.

And then the doc shocked him twice over. First, he presented a better option—living donors! The healthy liver is given a 60/40 split. The now-two-livers regenerate in both parties. The survival rates are very good. (Who knew? I didn’t!) And second, within hours of this new news this man’s two siblings (for whom this news was also new) offered to be donors! He told me about this over the phone recently. He choked up when it came to his siblings and the gift they are willing to give. Living donors.

I started this little piece speaking about how I’ve got an itch for wild places. It seems small and petty now, doesn’t it, in light of my friend’s plight? But I’m going to stick with it. I’m going to keep on looking at it with a notion (An itch in the brain?) that somehow these two storylines will weave together in the end.

In fact, I’ve been doing a good deal of thinking lately about the wild, nature, the earth, and our relationship to it.

On the one hand, I can justify longing for contact with God’s good creation and wild places. Theologically, I’d take what can be referred to as a ‘first article’ path. You know—I believe in God the Father Almighty Maker of Heaven and Earth. The creation is one of God’s good gifts and being cut off from nature and wild places, as we often are in the modern world, is probably not so good for us.

Yet on the other hand, I’m aware—and I confess to you—that my present longing and itch is mixed with impulses far darker. Tempted by the evil one and prone in my weak flesh to the same, I convince myself that my many callings in life—husband, father, pastor, friend—are forms of slavery for me. This is a diseased belief. Itch.

I tell myself that if only I can get out to the wilderness I can have freedom. Scratch.

But even then, the itch would remain.

That’s my inclination, or at least one of them—to take good things (wife, children, church, and friends) and call them bad.

That’s my idol, or at least one of them—to take a good thing (wilderness) and make it an ultimate thing—a false source of salvation.

And then comes Jesus riding into town—on a colt for this ass—in chains for this escape artist—God mocked for this maker of false gods—on a cross for this sinner—a living donor unto death.

Oh sure, I can smugly point out how my own driver’s license shows me to be an organ donor. But the whole idea is that when I’m dead and no longer in need of those organs, someone else can use them (how big of me!).

But here comes Jesus, very much in possession of, and in need of, his own organs and righteousness. He comes, living, righteous, God in the flesh—giving Himself in life unto death. And he does it for a gift-despising, idol-making bum like me. And he does the same for you.

I’ve sought to escape my pretend slavery for life in the wilderness (never a good place for actually living; but that conversation will have to wait for another time). But God in Christ—my living Donor unto death and resurrected life—has sprung me from actual slavery, is with me, leads me through the wilderness of life, and is taking me and you and all who trust in Him to a land that He has promised.

Surely he has borne our griefs
     and carried our sorrows;
yet we esteemed him stricken,
     smitten by God, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions;
     he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
     and with his wounds we are healed.
— Isaiah 53:4-5

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