We’re comparing the simple manna that God provided in the wilderness with the demand of God’s people for meat. “But now we have lost our appetite; we never see anything but this manna!…We detest this miserable food!” I suggest that you at least scan the previous Parts 1 and 2.
“I have come to the conclusion that for we who live in the Western world, the major challenge to the viability of Christianity is not Buddhism, with all its philosophical appeal to the Western mind, nor is it Islam, with all the challenge that it poses to Western culture. It is not the New Age that poses such a threat . . . I have come to believe that the major threat to the viability of our faith is that of consumerism. This is a far more heinous and insidious challenge to the gospel, because in so many ways it infects each and every one of us.” Alan Hirsch
Manna, which tasted like “wafers made with honey” was neither repulsive nor altogether tasteless. Nevertheless, though it may sound counterintuitive to our entitled Western ears, what God provided in the wilderness wasn’t meant to be yummy. He wasn’t trying to appeal to their culinary preferences. Manna was for the wilderness, not for the Promised Land where they would be able to cultivate and feast on whatever their hearts and taste buds desired.
So, what does that imply? If manna foreshadowed Jesus, the Bread from Heaven, are we saying that we have to choke Jesus down like spinach when what we really want is chocolate cake? God forbid! We’ve “tasted” and seen that the Lord is good and even scrumptious at times. But it’s my experience that his main appeal is not to our palate but to something much deeper in us than that. In our wilderness experience his effort to titillate our senses is trumped by his work to teach us faith and humility.
He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your ancestors had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord… He gave you manna to eat in the wilderness, something your ancestors had never known, to humble and test you so that in the end it might go well with you. Deuteronomy 8:3,16
To those who expect the unceasing sensory stimulation from their experience with God Paul wrote:
“Such people are not serving our Lord Christ, but their own appetites.” Romans 16:18
“Their god is their stomach…Their mind is set on earthly things.”Philippians 3:19
We confuse God’s dream with the American Dream when we believe that it’s God’s job to satisfy our lust for more tasty morsels. That sort of “faith” can be boiled down to acquiring greater material status. The thinking goes, “Since we ate meat in Egypt, it stands to our reason that we should eat at least as well, if not better!” We’ve let the American Dream creep in the back door of the Church and exist alongside, if not in place of, God’s dream.
Whatever material blessings we enjoy in America are more the result of good geography than good theology or spirituality. There are millions of people in other countries whose faith trumps ours by light years yet who suffer droughts and other freaks of nature that can decimate a people for generations. Things like Hurricane Katrina show us how badly things could turn out for us in an instant. Our prosperous nation status is much more tenuous than we realize. We mistake Christianity for capitalism and God for our personal banker when we dance around our golden-calf theology.
I become concerned when I hear more talk about marketing than manna and hire consultants to help us attract members. I suppose we reason that we can’t lure people into the Church unless we’re eating luxuriously and have something delicious to offer them when they come to the table. If we’re bored with manna, we can’t expect others to come and be satisfied with it. “We need meat if we’re going to convince people to follow our Jesus. We can’t make the sale with just Jesus!”
In addition to demanding something more appetizing, we want our spiritual diet to be tangible and explicable. The Jews named God’s provision “What is it?” admitting, that though it satisfied their every need, they had no idea what it consisted of. Many of us are not content with just Jesus because he doesn’t fit enough of our categories and we can’t adequately explain him. There’s only a certain amount of the inexplicable in our faith that we’re willing to tolerate, so we’ve all but banished the mystery and systematized it to Wikipedian proportions. We want a faith that we can reduce to bullet points, and therefore control to our own benefit.
When the Jews finally arrived at the Promised Land the manna stopped coming. They wouldn’t need it in Canaan, because manna is for the wilderness. As much as we might object to it, our life on earth is much more of a wilderness than a land of promise.* Don’t get me wrong, heaven is very real, but though we “taste its powers,” the place we live now isn’t heaven. This is the faith place, the manna place. It’s in the next place, the better place where all our desires will be realized.
When we try to convince ourselves that this earthbound place is is ever going to be a mirror image of that final place where we get everything we could ever want and comprehend everything we get, we will become disillusioned. We won’t need faith in the next place because our Heavenly Man(na) will stand right in front of us, revealed in all his glory. Until then we’ll have to keep creeping along by faith.
*Though, on some level a case could be made for the Christian life here as a sort of Promised Land, in general, the place in which we live is no more heaven to us than the wilderness was the Promised Land to those early Jews. While for us who love God, there are exquisite aspects to this life, it’s not to be compared to the next life. We’re desert dwellers on a pilgrimage to the better place where gourmet three-course banquets await us.
Another post you might like: Jesus, Middle Class Messiah
In spite of the pretty acidic approach I’ve taken here I’m wondering if you’re tracking with me. These are some of my “objections” to some of our contemporary Christian ways. Would anyone like to “sustain” or “overrule” my objections?