Father Mark, Reflections

Having your cake and eating it too?

Psalm 78

Using the insights of Chaim Ben Torah (Treasures of the Deep), the Hebrew/Aramaic scholar, for Psalm 78, brings us to verse 19 where the writer recalls the Israelites for lack of a better term, whining in the wilderness when they “spoke against God, saying, Can God furnish a table in the wilderness?” What’s odd is, that during that period the normal person ate on the ground. Tables were only used for very special occasions.

There is an anachronism I learned from the 12 Step Community years ago which I often forget. The term is “HALT.” Don’t get too hungry, angry, lonely or tired. When we cross the boundary of more than one of our human needs, our maturity usually decompresses into something of an irritable or whiny little kid within. For me, the straw that breaks the camel’s back is “T” for tired. Once I become overtired, things pretty much begin to slide unless I can withdraw and rest. “Tired” can slide into “A” for “angry” more quickly than I’d like to admit. I learned from research I read while in grad school that the brain cannot discern the difference between fatigue and hunger. So that when we’re tired, we reach for food to give us energy when it is really sleep that we need. Sleep deprivation has all kinds of caveats and none of them are good. But I digress.

The Israelite’s became tired of TV dinners (remember those?). Not really, they just had to live off the land being on the move as they were really dependent on God to provide and reveal what was edible in that wilderness because it was “terra firma” to which they were unaccustomed. The text in verse 19 reads in English that “they spoke against God.” This is literally incorrect. The Hebrews knew better than to do this. The meaning here points to their getting inflated enough to think that their thoughts were the same as God’s. The point here is not only did the Israelite’s attempt to negotiate with God about the menu but they were attempting to negotiate with God in projecting their thoughts as his own. History is bursting at the seams when human beings become inflated enough to play God. Church history (Crusades, Inquisition, Indulgences), political history (Marx, Lenin, Stalin, Hitler, Mao, Pol pot, Castro), science and technological history (remember the Titanic?) are all full of episode after episode where a sense of omnipotence and invincibility pervade the human mind creating chaos and suffering.

We’re a peculiar lot, we humans. We desire deliverance from the suffering of spiritual darkness while at the same time wanting to call the shots so our lives are safe and comfortable. I reckon that Jesus went through this temptation in the Garden of Gethsemane the evening before he was tortured and crucified.

I guess we can’t help wanting the easy way out sometimes but that spiritual character is forged through challenge and at times suffering. I think today we have an obsession with safety and ease. It’s not wrong to be safe but if we want safety more than God, then we’re back with the Israelite’s in the Wilderness who learned that there were no “safe spaces” in the Wilderness, but that God would be with them through their difficulties.

Spiritual growth and ease generally are not always found on the same plate contrary to the beliefs of prosperity gospel lovers. You can’t have two good things that don’t normally go together at the same time. Such are the words of a letter from the Fourth Duke of Norfolk to Thomas Cromwell, servant of Henry III in 1538: “You can’t have your cake and eat it too.” We’re in a situation now that few of us have ever been before, that we only heard about from our parents and grandparents where the “terra” isn’t so “firma.” I recall this truth in the prayer found on the body of a Confederate soldier, in Devil’s Den at Gettysburg, the same day my Great Great Great Uncle died in the same battle on July 2nd of 1863:

I asked God for strength, that I might achieve. I was made weak, that I might learn humbly to obey. I asked for health, that I might do greater things. I was given infirmity, that I might do better things. I asked for riches, that I might be happy. I was given poverty, that I might be wise. I asked for power that I might have the praise of men. I was given weakness, that I might feel the need of God. I asked for all things, that I might enjoy life. I was given life, that I might enjoy all things. I got nothing that I asked for but got everything I had hoped for. Almost despite myself, my unspoken prayers were answered. I am, among all people, most richly blessed.

Peace comes from God, not from safety. Now, if I will allow God to convince my self of this once again (I forget sometimes), I’ll sleep better tonight.


Fr. Mark