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Spiritual Mirages

And the LORD went before them
by day in a pillar of cloud to lead the way,
and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light,
so as to go by day and night.
Exodus 13:21

A physical mirage is an image, produced by very hot air, of something which seems to be far away but does not really exist. A spiritual mirage is an illusion of a hope or desire that has no chance of being achieved or acquired.

Though mirages can happen almost anywhere, the desert is a good place to see their amazing phenomena. In a land that is barren, dry and weary, people will experience great thirst and hunger. In the desert, what we see may not be what we will get. Most likely, we will see what we want to get. Because we are thirsty, we will tend to see an oasis or a pool of water. These images can be photographed. But they are just images, and not the real things.

Back in our secondary schools, we studied about light during the physics lessons. When there is an object, there will be an image or images produced. The images are caused by the reflection or the refraction of light. They may not be exactly the same size or shape as the object.

A mirage is an image caused by the refraction of light when light rays are being bent. A simple illustration of this is to drop a pencil into a glass of water. The image of the pencil will appear bent. How does it happen?

When light passes through various mediums of different densities, it will be refracted. Water is denser than air. So as light passes from the medium of air into the medium of water, the light rays are being refracted or bent. Therefore, the pencil will appear to be bent. But this bent image of the pencil, though can be seen and photographed, is not the same as the object, which remains straight and upright.

In the desert, there is a great temperature difference between that on the land surface and that in the atmosphere. These temperature differences cause the air density to differ from the land surface to the sky. When the sun rays pass through these different layers of air densities, they become bent. The degree of bending will depend on the density difference of air. The greater the temperature difference, the greater will be the bending.

Because of the bending of the light rays, mirages are formed. On a warm sunny day along the highway, the road many miles ahead may appear wet. The road has absorbed heat, and becomes very hot. Air just above the road surface has also become hot through conduction. But since air is a poor conductor of heat, the air a few feet above the ground is cooler than the air at the ground. As sunlight passes through these layers of different air densities, blue light refracts up into our eyes. As a result, we will see a pool of water on the road surface.

Sometimes, this watery surface appears to shimmer. As the denser air sinks to the ground, the lighter air will rise. This induces air convection. This effect of convection will also cause changes in air densities. When sunlight travels through the layers of differing air densities, its path also changes, and thus resulting in the shimmering effect. Sometimes, the object can appear to float in the air, or distant objects appear very close or even upside down! But these images are not real.

In Jeremiah 17:9-10, the LORD Himself told us:

"The heart is deceitful above all things,
And desperately wicked;
Who can know it?
I, the LORD, search the heart,
I test the mind,
Even to give every man according to his ways,
According to the fruit of his doings."

Our hearts can easily deceive us. Our senses can fool us into thinking what was not into what really is. When our hearts are dry and weary, we have a wilderness within. We will encounter spiritual mirages in our lives, having a false view of true spirituality and spiritual maturity. How many times have we observed the Light of His Word being bent by preachers to suit their own agendas and messages? How many times has the Truth of God being bent by Christians, leaders and followers alike, to promote their secret objectives and programs?

When the Light of His Word or the Truth of God is bent, what we get is just mirages and illusions, and not the real thing. One thing about mirages and illusions is that they are constantly shimmering, always changing. One day they will tell and give us this vision, and another day they will tell and give us another vision. Many months down the road, their story changes. They will then tell and give us a new set of visions and programs.

Sometimes they would stretch one truth in God's Word so much that it becomes so thin that it breaks and bursts, and cannot hold any water any longer. In the end, the thirsty and hungry souls remain thirsty and hungry, very discontented and greatly dissatisfied.

The Israelites had traveled along the desert roads for forty years in their journey from Egypt to their Promised Land. I believe that they had seen all kinds of mirages. When they seek those mirages, they would not find any water or get any refreshments. In Exodus 17:1-7, we have a valuable lesson to learn from the Israelites about their mirages:

Then all the congregation of the children of Israel set out on their journey from the Wilderness of Sin, according to the commandment of the LORD, and camped in Rephidim; but there was no water for the people to drink.

Therefore the people contended with Moses, and said, "Give us water, that we may drink." And Moses said to them, "Why do you contend with me? Why do you tempt the LORD?"

And the people thirsted there for water, and the people complained against Moses, and said, "Why is it you have brought us up out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and our livestock with thirst?"

So Moses cried out to the LORD, saying, "What shall I do with this people? They are almost ready to stone me!"

And the LORD said to Moses, "Go on before the people, and take with you some of the elders of Israel. Also take in your hand your rod with which you struck the river, and go. Behold, I will stand before you there on the rock in Horeb; and you shall strike the rock, and water will come out of it, that the people may drink." And Moses did so in the sight of the elders of Israel.

So he called the name of the place Massah and Meribah, because of the contention of the children of Israel, and because they tempted the LORD, saying, "Is the LORD among us or not?"

The children of Israel set out on their journey from the Wilderness of Sin. They were obeying the commandment of the LORD, and set their camps at Rephidim.

They expected to find water there. But to their great disappointment, they found no water at Rephidim. They were very thirsty at this point in time as they had gone through the tough and hot terrain.

But they did not turn to God for water. Was the LORD not among them? Did they not see the pillar of cloud by day or the pillar of fire by night? Had they forgotten about the LORD? As long as the Israelites set their visions on the ground, they would only see the mirages. They would not see the pillar of cloud or the pillar of fire in the sky. They would not know the Object of their faith Who is God Almighty Himself. They would forget about God and His continual presence with them. God was with them all the time.

Because they did not see God, they turned to Moses whom they could see. Though Moses was their leader, they were almost ready to stone him to death. They contended with Moses, demanding for water to drink. Had they lost their minds? Could Moses, a mere human being, produce water for a whole nation of people to drink?

Of course not. Moses could not do anything. Moses acknowledged his own inability to satisfy Israel's thirst. He did the right thing. He cried out to the LORD for help, saying, "What shall I do with this people?" Moses understood that only God Himself could quench the thirst of His people. How many times have we tried to play God when we were not? How many times have we pretended that we were able to satisfy the thirst and hunger of our fellow believers?

God commanded Moses to use his rod and strike the rock in Horeb. When Moses did accordingly to God’s instructions, water flowed out of the rock. And the thirst of Israel was satisfied.

The apostle Paul wrote about this event in 1 Corinthians 10:1-4:

Moreover, brethren, I do not want you to be unaware that all our fathers were under the cloud, all passed through the sea, all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them, and that Rock was Christ.

The spiritual drink was from the Rock of our salvation Himself. Only He can satisfy the thirst and hunger of our souls.

In John 7:37-38, Jesus still gives us this invitation:

"If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water."

In Revelation 22:17, the Spirit and the bride say, "Come!" And let him who hears say, "Come!" And let him who thirsts come. Whoever desires, let him take the water of life freely.

Let’s come to the Rock of our salvation for His living water. He is willing to give us the water of life freely. Let’s keep our eyes on Jesus, the Author and Finisher of our faith. Let’s not be distracted by the tempting mirages and illusions in our lives. They do not satisfy our needs. They only deceive us. Only Jesus is the Truth, the Way and the Life. He never fails to satisfy our thirst and hunger.

As the deer pants for the water brooks,
So pants my soul for You, O God.
My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.
Psalm 42:1-2

Written on:
22 November 2004