when our god is in our belly

Posted: March 8, 2017 in Uncategorized

While some of the Old Testament is super-hard for me, some of the story is intensely relatable.  I’m in one of those spots now:  God’s people whining in the wilderness.  The reason they are whining?  Food, of course.

The journey has been epic thus far.  They’ve seen God put on a spectacular show of plagues to force the Pharaoh to release them.  They’ve walked on dry land through the middle of the Red Sea.  They’ve sipped water drawn from a rock.  And then there was the manna – what a crazy miracle.  Food that shows up every morning, right there on the ground, perfect nutrition.  There is no need to store it, no need to tote it around – a new crop comes daily.  It is such a picture of God’s provision that if they try to save it from one day to the next most of the week, it just rots.  But since He has given them the Sabbath as a day of rest, somehow the manna does NOT rot when one collects extra the day before THAT day.  Manna is a mind-bender.  I have often imagined what it would have been like to come out of the tent that first morning of the manna and find it there.  All the wonder and emotion around the first bite.  The dawning reality, day after day, that it’s still there and I’m not starving out here in this land that could absolutely not supply enough food for so many people tramping through.

But where I am right now in the story is not that initial, wonder-filled space in the story.

I’m at the whining part.

The people are tired of manna.  Manna, manna, manna.  It’s all they ever get to eat.  I want to judge them for bitching, and then I think about how I’d be if I had to eat the same thing all day, every day, for days on end, and I know for sure my voice would have been in that chorus.  “We want meat!” they moan.  “Remember back in the good old days when we were slaves?  Remember the meat?  We had fish!  We had cucumbers! We had watermelon, leeks, and garlic!  What the heck were we thinking, leaving a great gig like that to be out here in the desert eating nothing but manna, manna, manna?”  (This, of course, is Karen’s paraphrase, but it’s not far off from what the text says.)

What a bunch of whiner babies.  Stuck eating a supernatural miracle every day.  Delivered from the oppression of slavery, and unable to just gratefully press forward into freedom.  I really want to judge them, and I am sure I am not one iota different from them.

In the coming days I’ll get to watch God give them a lesson on ingratitude – the threat was there in the text today.  Something like, “You want meat?  I’ll give you meat.  Meat until it comes out your ears!  Brace yourselves.”  Rarely have I had as much fun teaching from the Bible as I did when covering this with my Sunday School kids some years ago.  It is such a vivid story of who we are as human beings, with all our ugliness and short-sightedness hanging out there in the open.

This morning I am thinking about how much like them I am.  Elsewhere in scripture there is a criticism of some people that says, “Their god is in their belly.”  That one hits me hard, as I know how much of my attention and focus goes every day to the next thing I get to eat.  I know how it shapes my thoughts, moment-to-moment.  I know how bent out of shape I get if I have to “suffer” hunger – or, like these folks, just a lack of dietary variety – for even a little while.  This even though never – not one single time – has want stolen my meal.  I’ve eaten my share of “poor people food” in harder times, but in truth have not known the suffering of that level of poverty that is REAL hunger.  Still, with all my wealth and comfort, the edge of an unsatiated appetite can affect my mood and even my decision-making ability.  So much for being strong or smart.

All of this to say, God is good.  He knows how really fragile and fallible we are – how often our god is in our belly.  He knows how to deal with us at our whiniest, and even when in His grace He allows consequence to shape us, even in this there is great grace and mercy.  While I don’t do nearly as much external whining as I once did, the internal whine is still very much a present thing for me more than I’d want you to know.  Today, I’m grateful I can continue to talk back to that whine about God’s goodness.  I’m grateful that I can choose gratitude, despite my many shortcomings.

 

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