Plate Six | Are We Not Convicts?
Thus says the Lord:
“In a time of favor I have answered you;
in a day of salvation I have helped you;
I will keep you and give you
as a covenant to the people,
to establish the land,
to apportion the desolate heritages,
saying to the prisoners, ‘Come out,’
to those who are in darkness, ‘Appear.’
They shall feed along the ways;
on all bare heights shall be their pasture;
they shall not hunger or thirst,
neither scorching wind nor sun shall strike them,
for he who has pity on them will lead them,
and by springs of water will guide them.
“Are We Not Convicts? What a way to begin a conversation!
This is a rhetorical question asked among those sentenced. Yes, Rouault, we don’t usually feel the weight of it, but it is sadly as you say. Each of us wanders, knowing alone the hurt we’ve each committed; the bridges we’ve burned, the goodness we intended but never acted upon.
I have heard that the book of Deuteronomy is referred to as The Wilderness in the Hebrew bible. I bet more people would explore these pages, revealing God’s purposes during the desert exile, if we too inherited this title.
We long for the comfort and familiarity of home, but we’d much sooner listen to a story that takes place in the wilderness. Why? Because, the wilderness has no interest in preserving our tranquility. It is a place of testing. It is place where our longings, normally kept tucked and groomed, are exposed and then chafed and made raw. The wilderness either kills us, or we’re rescued from it.
Israel’s origin was a verdant place of safety, community and joy. It had so much peace that it requires a redefinition of what *home* looks like, for walls and a roof are not needed in a place specifically made *for* us. But the joys of Eden are foreign to us now, and Scripture alone can reveal such harmony to us in the wilderness places we each inhabit. For when we tried to take over the house, the Owner kicked us out. He kicked us out, not with the intention to abandon us, but to incite a lifelong journey of discovery. A story that he would resolve back where we began; having come to know him as Father and not merely the Law.
Home is in the distance in Rouault’s sixth plate. We’re all stripped naked, and we’re not an attractive lot. The man in the foreground, though he wears no chained cuffs on his wrists, yet feels the bite of the metal. He knows his condition. He continues by the ever so faint hope that in the end, all will be well; that the Voice he hears in the heights proclaims a truth more real than the sun baking cancer into his flesh and the uncertainty ever tempting him to collapse into the dust forever.
“In an acceptable time”…he keeps repeating the promise given him, “in an acceptable time…have I heard…have I helped…”