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“Communion through complaint” – Ryan Galpin

“Is everything alright with your meal?”

I think I have always replied to this question with the words, “yes, lovely thank you.” Regardless of what I actually think, my stereotypical Britishness overpowers and my desire to not cause a fuss wins the day.

I probably wouldn’t have felt overly comfortable within the Israelite community in Exodus 16. We read that the entire community was complaining to Moses and Aaron, bemoaning their lack of food and apparent impending death. With the likelihood that they had livestock with them, I’m inclined to think their predicted starvation is a little overdramatic.

Their grumblings, though exaggerated, are nonetheless reportedly heard by God. The passage goes on to share about the miraculous provision of unexpected meat and bread. We know this because the Israelites called the bread ‘manna’ which roughly translates as ‘what is it?’.

So does this passage suggest that if we say “I want” to God then we will get it? That we simply need to petition and plead for God to act long enough for Him to hear? I would like to suggest that something else is at play.

The miraculous provision of food is strongly linked with the practical teaching around Sabbath we find in the later verses. This encompasses not only the rhythm of rest within the community, but also the practice of simply taking what one needs day-to-day.

In the passage, we are given no indication of the passing of time. We read of the complaint and ‘then’ God speaks to Moses. The complaints could have gone on for days or months beforehand.

I would argue that the act of complaint was not the issue – the direction of the complaint was.

If I am in a restaurant and I make a complaint to my friend that the food is cold, they aren’t actually able to do anything, unless by chance they carry a portable microwave. If the complaint is made to a staff member, they could get the food reheated or discount the meal. The complaint is vocalised to someone who can implement change.

The Israelites are directing their protestations towards Moses and Aaron.

Just as a friend could mediate to a staff member in a restaurant, Moses and Aaron mediate between God and the Israelites. Although it results in God hearing their complaints, relationship is not built because it is mediated by Moses.

In the process of lament, we take our complaints, protestations, and grumblings directly to God. We bring our ideals of how the world should be and lay them down. When we take things to God, we are present with Him. When we are present with Him, we are transformed. We bring our wants and needs before Him and, in His presence, they are transformed into what He wants. Our desires are aligned with God’s kingdom mission, and we cannot help but want to bring peace, hope, and love into the world.

The Psalms help to give words to our griefs and protestations. Their poetry speaks into the depth of human experience, directing us to God, to make our protestations at the only One that can bring change.

So, does ‘I want’ actually get?

Through the process of lament and bringing our protestations to God, ‘I want’ becomes ‘what He wants’. We reiterate this in the Lord’s Prayer: ‘your will be done’.

We also grow closer to God as we feel we can bring all things to him: our griefs, our desires and even our complaints about the food.

Ryan Galpin is PF’s Communications Officer.

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