When I asked the doctor what I would feel like after my iron transfusion, he said, “You will feel like...you had no idea you could feel this good.” At first I was elated. No more needing to nap twice a day on weekends and going to bed by 8:30. No more dragging myself through the day, being out of breath, muscle tension, racing heart or restless sleep. All this would go away.
But, as I lay in my bed the night before my first transfusion, all I felt was fear. I was terrified at what the change in health might bring. I was about to take on a medical procedure that was supposed to radically alter my reality so much so that I might not recognize my new life. And as I stood at the edge of that change the world seemed like an empty and unknown wilderness and I was scared.
The Israelites found themselves in the middle of an actual unknown wilderness. They were being led by a pillar of cloud by day and fire by night. They had just been pulled out of slavery in an earth shattering display of the Lord's power and they were free.
They woke every morning with magical honey wafers all over the ground that could be cooked and eaten. There was enough every day for everyone and enough for a double portion to be gathered the day before the Sabbath. Their enemies had been drowned before their very eyes and they were safe.
And what were they doing about it? They were complaining. "The rabble with them began to crave other food, and again the Israelites started wailing and said, 'If only we had meat to eat! We remember the fish we ate in Egypt at no cost—also the cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions and garlic. But now we have lost our appetite; we never see anything but this manna!” (Numbers 11:4-6)
They weren't complaining that it was too hot or too sandy or that the scorpions were really starting to get to them. No, they were complaining about how terrible God's provision of food was compared to the food they ate in...Egypt.
Did you hear that? "the fish we ate in Egypt at no cost?" No cost! Except perhaps the cost of their very freedom? They actually had the audacity to say that slavery in Egypt was better than being with God in the unknown. They were reminiscing about Egypt, the glorious days of old when things were better, and they were weighing it. Slavery or Freedom. Melons or manna. Whips or pillars of fire.
It's not like Egypt was a popular vacation spot. Egypt was the land of slavery, pain, terrible memories, entrapment, and hope deferred. Egypt was the land of death. How could they complain and compare God to Egypt?
They could and did because there is comfort in slavery.
Like a bitter old friend it has its routines and it is comfortably predictable - expectations are clear and there are no surprises. There is a strange comfort in our vices, addictions, distractions, and unhealthy patterns. We use them and they get us through. We cope and we survive and they always give us the same results. Our cycle of pain becomes safe because, if not anything else, it is familiar. It isn't good. It is far from good. But we know it.
I can understand their complaining hearts. I have heard the same words from my own. The Sinai wilderness was not for the faint of heart. The deep dependency on God for every victory, every direction, and every bit of food was humbling. This is not a comfortable place to be.
Canon David Short, in his sermon to the Canadian ANIC synod in 2014, said “the grace of God overthrows and overflows into our lives and the lives of others.” He likened God's grace to a story of playing chess with a friend. One of his young sons came by and flipped the board over in impatience. The pieces flew everywhere and the game was over. The laws of probability say that there is a chance the pieces might have fallen exactly as they were but the likelihood of that is incredibly small. The overthrowing of your life, as with a chess board, will mean that things are never the same. And the knowledge of this can be terrifying.
It was God's grace and compassion that pulled the Israelites from slavery and He moved heaven and earth to do it. And the movement of that same grace in our lives overthrows everything. Everything. His grace reaches into the deepest recesses of our hearts and lives, it reaches our dreams, our hopes, and our imagination but it also reaches places we thought were hidden from everyone. It reaches the memories we've tried so desperately to erase and reject, hurts and wounds we have caused or experienced, things we hoped no one had seen, parts of our lives we are desperately trying to keep a lid on. Areas we claim as “ours”, where we chose our own desires over His, our stubborn individuality and hardened hearts. Nothing is exempt from His sovereign hand. But it is His grace that breaks it open for our own good and for our healing.
But into those places, into our areas of slavery, his grace also overflows. It is poured down like fresh water on our most damaged and dry places. It brings healing, new life and restoration. And some things will have to die for those things to grow. He will not leave things untouched but he is gentle, and kind, slow to anger and abounding in love. He is trustworthy but requires trust. He brings tender comfort but it will not always feel comfortable. He will pull us from areas where we are bound and burdened and thrust us into a wilderness of wild abandon, trust, hope, freedom and joy. And He will do it because He loves us.
He is the great liberator and if we invite Him into our lives He will not stand to see us in slavery. This is His promise. This is His warrior heart. This is His grace. He loves us too much to watch us weighed down and shackled. It is not what we were created for.
He will not forsake us. There will be mysterious manna from heaven every day and there will be enough. Water will flow from rocks in the desert and death is, and will continue to be defeated. Hope and imagination will begin to grow. We will see the goodness of God in the land of the living. Our hope is not in coping mechanisms or in comfort. Our hope is in the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ and the power of his Holy Spirit at work within us.