When I was a teenager and first read about the Israelites’ desert journey documented in what most people know as the Torah or as the Old Testament of the Bible, I was so exasperated. In the reading, this group of people is chosen by God to be freed from slavery, and are led directly by God on a journey through the desert where they are sustained by Bread from Heaven (known as manna), before coming home to build their own nation with the supernatural help from God to overcome any enemy that comes against them.
And yet… they complained! All the time! As a young person, I could not comprehend how they could be so unhappy when they had it so good.
The mightiest, Most High God of the universe is personally assisting them and their response is to COMPLAIN?! “Oh, we ate such awesome food back when we were slaves! Oh, man, we had it so good back in the day before we got stuck out here with our freedom!” I could not see what the big problem was. They have freedom, provision from God Himself, and the promise of a much brighter future, yet all they do is despair. I could not understand why it was so hard to trust God and be happy with all He has done.
But now I think that my simplistic point of view did not do the wisdom contained in this story much justice. First, circumstances can weigh on an individual and on a group as a whole. This people had known a lifetime of oppression, abject poverty, torturous slavery, hateful abhorrence by the most powerful leadership on earth, and more.
If that is all you have known, how are you supposed to expect anything else? You do not know what it is that you do not know. How are you supposed to imagine yourself living a better life when you have zero familiarity or context with such a life? Furthermore, I think they did have an acute realization that because they had a background of such severe limitations yet abundant afflictions they had a complete talent drain when it came to organizational/national leadership, defense, skills beyond the limited ones learned in slavery, and recognizing individual talents and passions.
Yes, they were free, but how were they to make something lasting of that freedom? All they could perceive is that as a people, they were continually not enough. Always. not. enough. No matter how much good came to them, they believed would always have zero chance at significant success.
I think this is common to every individual. We are always ready to feel inferior or to feel stuck or to feel like that one break we really need will always elude us no matter what. It is so much easier to trust our circumstances and to trust beliefs we have built inside of ourselves which may or may not be true at all than to be challenged with trusting God or with believing something new and unfamiliar to us.
We know how to be disappointed. The uncertainty of what it would be like to be a success and to overcome things we have not overcome before is thrilling but also full of uncertainty and fear. The pain of failing is more real to our heart than the confidence that we will be okay in new territory. We are not inclined to give ourselves a break if doing something new takes a learning curve. We want to either succeed immediately or else we convict ourselves of utter lack.
Also, sometimes trust and gratefulness are required to be together before they really take root in your heart. One is not victorious without the other. I know I personally cannot be truly grateful for the good news in my life if I am constantly afraid it is going to go away. My gratitude is unstable and conditional which really sucks the merit out of it.
Life is inherently uncertain, but I can still be grateful that this good news is happening, it has not gone away as of this moment, and if it does go away the same God that gave me this good news will somehow give me more good news. It is going to be okay even if it is not okay and I am grateful to God for that. Somewhere there is a balance between recognizing the uncertainty of life and resting in what is currently positive in this present moment.
For sure, the Israelites in the desert were stuck in a history of terrible circumstances, but also they were stuck in their own way. Sometimes you have to trust that something new and that evokes an enormous fear response in you has the potential to be amazing. And even if it does not work out, you have gone some place inside yourself that you would have never known the strengths of otherwise. It is okay to be afraid, it is okay to recognize reality, but it is also okay to journey to new places and to trust in higher truths than the ones limited to your past. You’ve got this!