A concoction of Kool Aid’s high fructose corn syrup and artificial dye, mixed with a little flour and water, and plunged into simmering oil, these fried dough balls were introduced as the latest fair food in San Diego. Despite the synthetics, customers raved about these treats describing them as if they were a good wine, “It starts off tart and tangy, and then finishes really sweet…” said one fairgoer.
But others consider this a recipe for the decline of American health; a critique that is not far off the mark considering 34% of American adults age 20 and older are overweight and 34% are obese.
We are a nation of consumers, of food, media, technology, gossip, anything we come to believe is pleasurable and enjoyable and will elevate our standard of living. But the truth is that over-consumption, rather than feeding our craving, only desensitizes us in the end. The more we consume, the less we appreciate, and the less we are satisfied.
It’s a human condition, and the ancient Israelites were susceptible just as we are today. Shortly after God had delivered His people out of slavery in Egypt, where they were abused, overworked, and their children were killed, the Israelites were wishing they had never left their bondage for one simple but astounding reason: the food. “If only we had died by the Lord’s hand in Egypt!” they exclaimed to Moses, “There we sat around pots of meat and ate all the food we wanted, but you have brought us out into this desert to starve this entire assembly to death” (Exodus 16:3).
They craved the decadence of Egypt, where they feasted on savory meat and fresh melons (Numbers 11:5), where their hands were shackled but at least their stomachs were full. But God knew their needs and had a plan to provide.
You know the story: God caused quail to descend upon the camps in the evening, and wafers of bread to grace the ground in the morning with the dew. The Israelites called the bread “manna,” meaning, “What is it?” God gave them careful instructions on eating this bread from heaven. They were to only collect enough for each person for one day and no more, except on the day before the Sabbath when they would gather enough also for the day of rest.
But the Israelites were so accustomed to the tables of Egypt that they didn’t listen; they gathered more manna than they could eat in one day and hoarded the rest in their tents, despite the promise that each day would bring new bread. Rather than trust a miracle, they preferred to rely on their own resourcefulness. By the next day, the manna had always rotted.
We also desensitize ourselves in overconsumption. We do not realize the depth of our need, seeking only surface satisfaction. We do not take pleasure, too busy calculating how to amass more. We consume unfeelingly, valuing the dry quantity over the delight of taste, “like wafers made with honey” (Exodus 16:31).
Exodus tells us the Israelites ate manna every day for forty years, a generation raised off of a miracle, though they often protested and complained about it. The manna was God’s way of caring for His people in the wilderness, but it was also a representative of another kind of daily grace as Jesus taught us to pray centuries later, “Give us this day our daily bread…” (Matthew 6:11). Give us this day our daily mercies. Let us learn to look to You for each day’s needs, relying not on our own resources, but praising You for your providence and drawing sweetly nearer.
Musician Joel P. West sings,
“Beauty is simple but we, we find favor in a mess of synthetics
We are hungry”
Like Israel longing for its gilded cage in Egypt, our indulgences keep us in captivity and are always second-rate, despite what we may think. Whether a steady diet of deep-fried Kool Aid, a daily Starbucks habit, daytime TV, or superfluous shopping, our indulgences may distract us temporarily, but there is a hunger that runs deep for that which only God can give.
And God holds out a steady hand to give it—a sustenance that is simple but rich, humble but enough, and will fill our stomachs and our souls. Like the Israelites who said, “What is it?”—we dine on mystery. Something given, something supernatural, something whole. Grace that is new and overflowing every morning.