In the book of Exodus, the Israelites are brought by God out of the land of Egypt where they were enslaved, and taken into the desert. God has worked miracle after miracle for them by this point, ten plagues, walking through the Red Sea, but once they find themselves in the desert, the Israelites complain that they have no food. Somewhat understandable. After all, they have no food. But then God literally makes it rain food. Food appears every morning except on the Sabbath, and all they have to do is go pick it up.
But then they complain about that! When I was a kid and read this story, I thought, “Those dumb Isrealites! God has given them absolutely everything, and now they’re going to whine that they don’t like the way it tastes! What a bunch of ungrateful brats!”
And there’s something to that. We complain about our blessings too. We forget just how amazing the things we have are and whine that they are not exactly to our liking. And there was likely some of that in the Isrealites complaint.
What really bothered them about the manna
But I think there was more to it than that.
The manna came down every night (except the sabbath) with the dew, and melted away with the dew. They could only gather enough for each day; there was no saving up, no planning for the future.
That, I think, is the real reason they complained. They had to trust God for their food, every single day. They couldn’t rely on their own efforts. They couldn’t plan ahead, store up, or anything. They just had to radically trust that God would keep sending the mysterious food.
We humans like to feel in control. We like to think our lives are in our own hands—and we do certainly have agency. But ultimately we are thoughts in the mind of God, utterly dependent for our very existence on His continuing to think us. We are as dependent on God as ideas you’ve never expressed are to you. If you cease thinking that thought, its existence ends.
We hate to be reminded of our radical dependence. We hate to be reminded that we aren’t in control, that we aren’t permanent, that we can’t know all the answers. And that’s exactly what the manna was doing. It was God saying to His people, every single morning, “Remember, I am God, and you are not. You cannot live unless I provide your food.”
I think that’s why they complained. Because none of us want to be reminded of our ultimate dependency.
The things I complain about
I certainly don’t like being reminded that I’m dependent and temporary. I realized lately that the things that upset me the most are precisely the things that remind me of my dependency and the impermanence of material things.
I am furious when my kids break things or waste things. And I’m somewhat justified in that; they shouldn’t be doing that. But my anger is out of proportion to the cause, and I think it boils down to the same thing: I want the order that I have set in my world to remain. I want to feel that I am in control of at least my little corner of the world.
Besides waste and damage, the other thing that I find most frustrating in my life as a parent is the constant changing of plans. I organize a fabulous plan for my day…but then the toddler throws up. I envision a workflow for making dinner, but then the toddler wants to “help.” (Yes. I visualize a workflow for making dinner. You don’t?)
I imagine a schedule…and then my child can’t find her shoes…again.
Little things, all of them. But frustrating. The degree to which I find these little things frustrating, is, I think, a sign that there is more to it than the thing itself.
Perhaps my anger and frustration with my children comes from the same source as the Israelites’ complaints about the manna. I just don’t enjoy being constantly reminded that I am not God.
Both the manna and our children are direct gifts from God, and they serve the same, not always welcome purpose: to remind us that we are dependent on God for our “daily bread.”