We live in an age in which we make demands of one another while repudiating demands others make of us. Our outrage gauge is always on the high side, but wonder how others could find any problem in us. We demand what we crave and, as you know, cravings are personal – they come and go, change and redirect, ebb and flow.
Psalm 78 helps us see what comes of these cravings. It recounts the history of Israel, pointing to their unbelief and God’s faithfulness. It’s the story the Bible tells often: Sinful man rebels against God, blaming him for the terrible spot they’re in, demanding he make it right.
I wonder what demands we are making of God right now? What are we holding him accountable to do that he has not explicitly told us he would do? What bitterness is taking root due to our misdirected cravings?
Yet they sinned still more against him, rebelling against the Most High in the desert. They tested God in their heart by demanding the food they craved. They spoke against God, saying, “Can God spread a table in the wilderness? He struck the rock so that water gushed out and streams overflowed. Can he also give bread or provide meat for his people?”
Can’t you just hear the indignation in those verses? The accusation that God is holding out on them, unwilling to give them what they want! How dare he deny his people whatever their heart wants whenever it wants it.
They did not believe in the goodness of God. They thought they knew better what would bring them joy in life, and they refused to be satisfied until he had met their demands. So too do we act like such selfish children before our Holy God.
But God will not be bullied. He will not give in to our demands because we do not know what is best for us.
"You be you." "Follow your heart." "Live out your passion." "Be your truest self." Are the damning phrases of our age. They are all attempts at defining and justifying ourselves apart from God. And the further in we go the deeper down we sink into despair. Life is not meant to be lived upon the blissful shores of my cravings. We cannot grow on the fruit of evil desires, but in the barrenness of God's desert training. When we give ourselves over to his care we will find that he knows best.
Notice the verbs in verses 17-20: sinned, rebelling, tested, demanding, spoke against. The Israelites condemned God as a bad Father. And so do we.
Their heart was not steadfast toward him; they were not faithful to his covenant. Yet he, being compassionate, atoned for their iniquity and did not destroy them; he restrained his anger often and did not stir up all his wrath. He remembered that they were but flesh, a wind that passes and comes not again.
Yet he. God is gracious. He has mercy. And for people as sinful as the Israelites, and you and me, what good news this is! God shows mercy to mercy-less people. He gives grace to grace-less people.
He remembers that we are but flesh, and the flesh is no help at all (John 6:63). Our flesh demands what God is not willing to give because our flesh does not understand what goodness awaits in God. Our flesh only knows what we want, not what we need. And so we need someone to watch over us to give us what we need, like a good parent who monitors their child's food, refusing a diet of desserts and providing a diet of fruit and vegetables. We need someone to give us what we really need because we have no idea what we need.
Our cravings cause us to condemn God, and God's mercy causes him to forgive us. God gets the raw end of this deal. He is abused and maligned, and we are freed and forgiven.