In the first reading today, the Israelites had grown tired from their journey. They were hungry and uncomfortable. When they complained about their circumstances to God, he responded by punishing them heavily. I wonder if his displeasure with them was less about their unhappiness and more about their lack of gratitude. “We are disgusted with this wretched food,” they say. This statement confirms that they did, in fact, have food (even if it was wretched).
Was the Lord upset that they didn’t see His provision, that on that long journey, he had given them just enough to sustain them? And what was His penalty for their ungratefulness? It was death.
Isn’t it the same for us, thousands of years later, that we displease God with our complaints? Complaints should not be confused with prayers and intentions brought to the Lord. There is a big difference.
When we complain, we say to the Lord, “I see all those gifts and blessings over there to my left, but let’s talk about what’s missing over here on my right.” Complaints skip over the goodness and the love of Jesus. And while we don’t usually see Jesus send serpents to bite us, there are terrible consequences to ingratitude. When we focus on only the negative in our lives (even if it is natural to feel pain , frustration, or sadness at our circumstances), we become bitter and angry, lonely and hardened. We distance ourselves from Jesus, which is a death.
The Israelites learned a hard lesson, that refusing to see provision and goodness, no matter how hard it may be, has a consequence far greater than their original pain. “We have sinned in complaining against the LORD and you. Pray the LORD to take the serpents away from us.”
To complain about our lives is to ignore goodness, to ignore Jesus. These last few days of Lent, let us all take a deep breath and focus on identifying the many ways He has provided for us, especially in our times of pain and need. Goodness is always, always there because Jesus is always, always there.
Keri Ninness is married to husband, Ross, and is a stay-at-home mom to Mary Kate (4), Thomas (2) and Timothy (1). She uses her background in social work to attempt to reason with the above children but spends most of her day using her horrible domestic skills as a short order cook.