You don’t always have to do something.
By Lael Caesar
Standing seems to be harder than sitting. Standing seems to be harder than falling. Even walking seems to be easier than standing. Have you ever noticed how much easier it is to walk around in circles, going nowhere, or to pace the floor back and forth inside a room—going toward the wall, then back toward the other wall, then back toward the first wall again—instead of just standing? You know you aren’t going anywhere. But it’s easier to walk up and down going nowhere than it is just to stand.
Have you ever heard the command: “Don’t just stand there! Do something!” Do what? Nobody can necessarily tell, but it’s better than just standing there. Just standing is problematic. Something, it seems, is wrong with standing, even when you don’t know what else you can do besides stand.
The Urge to Act
You and I both have a question about that: We want to know the origins of, and basis for, that desperate human urge—the urge to do something even when we have no idea what. Old Testament history points us to one momentous occasion when desperate humans responded to that urge. It is a point in Israel’s story during which God is rescuing Abram’s children from trouble. He wants to take them to a place where they can live well and free. They have to cross the sea, and they don’t have any boats. They don’t know what to do. But they know they can’t just stand there. They have to do something.
So they start up a chant about going back home: “The sons of Israel looked, and behold, the Egyptians were marching after them, and they became very frightened. . . . They said to Moses, ‘. . . It would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the wilderness’ ” (Ex. 14:10-12).* This is, of course, untrue, but is one consequence of the feeling that we can’t just stand there—we must do something. It is a feeling that inspires triple confusion.
Three Times Wrong
"Life is not first a physical matter. It is first and last a SPIRITUAL matter."
First, we forget who and whose we are. As the psalmist reminds us, it is God who made us (Ps. 100:3). It was not a lottery prize that got Israel to the Red Sea; it was God’s personal guidance (Ex. 6:6). At the edge of the sea, as ever before, they were in God’s hands. But they had simply lost focus on who and whose they were, and how they had got to where they were.
How did any of us get here? Genesis tells us. “In the beginning God . . .” (Gen. 1:1). We need to remember our beginnings. But this is not the only area in which we blunder by insisting that we must do something. We’re also yielding to a major and very attractive and popular self-deception: We see ourselves as in charge of things that will collapse if we do not act. Listening to Israel when we think those thoughts, we may hear the folly of our own words. For Israel’s request is to return to slavery.
A historic answer to such thinking comes from the Negro spirituals of America’s South. Some are quite famous: “Swing low, sweet chariot, coming for to carry me home.” “River Jordan is chilly and cold, chills the body but not the soul; river Jordan is deep and wide, milk and honey on the other side.” Though they sound like heaven, those songs were very earthly signals, too. People who toiled in slavery sang them to give hope to themselves and their brothers and sisters. Those who heard the singing got a message: the freedom runners were coming to smuggle more slaves out of their hellhole. Neither physical nor spiritual slavery is anything to want to go back to. One of those songs says, ‘Before I’d be a slave I’ll be buried in my grave!’ Wanting to go back to slavery makes no sense. But it’s the kind of folly that is expressed when I think I have to do something.
A third and most tragic implication of this flawed thinking is that we’re mostly denying God the chance to be God: Listen to Moses tell us what God wants us to do: “Moses said to the people, ‘Do not fear! Stand by and see the salvation of the Lord which He will accomplish for you today; for the Egyptians whom you have seen today, you will never see them again forever. The Lord will fight for you while you keep silent’ ” (Ex. 14:13, 14).
What to Do, Then
So what are we supposed to do when we don’t know what to do? According to Moses, the answer is stand up! But you are frightened. You’ve seen the Egyptians. Your legs are melting! You want to sit down before you faint. You are scared, and you don’t know what to do anyway! So what? What does God want you to do? Well, two things that are just one thing: He wants us to do nothing; and He wants us to stand.
The Septuagint [Greek] translation of “stand” in Exodus 14:13 uses the same term that appears in Ephesians 6:11. The word is histemi—“stand” in its intransitive sense. “Stand,” you see, can mean “set up,” which means that I am in charge, as in “I stood the chairs up in a row.” And we would love to have that authority. But humans are not in charge of the universe. We are in trouble. Everybody since Adam’s sad misdirection has been in trouble. And we will not get out of trouble by pretending to be in charge, or by turning and running.
What would happen to amputees if running away were the answer? Besides, running is a cowardly answer. But when Paul talks to his Ephesian saints, he offers the answer of standing that Moses recommends in Exodus. When he says to stand, he’s talking specifically about seeing Egyptians bearing down on you, or feeling the force of evil bearing down to crush you, and standing up. Having the powers of darkness threaten and launch their fiercest charge, and standing up. Standing is the message of Ephesians 6:11, for able-bodied souls, and for quadriplegics. That’s because standing up depends on more than legs.
I thank God for an answer that does not discriminate against the physically less endowed. For life is not first a physical matter. It is first and last a spiritual matter. And God who gives us life, regardless of whether we have legs or not, has made it possible for every one of us to stand up. He provides the armor in which we may “stand firm against the schemes of the devil. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but . . . against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places.” As we “take up the full armor of God, [we shall] be able to resist in the evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm” (Eph. 6:11-13).
* Scripture quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.
Lael Caesar is glad he can stand with Jesus. Footraces are not his forte. He is an associate editor of Adventist World.