Complaining in the Desert
Now when the people complained in the hearing of the Lord about their misfortunes, the Lord heard it and his anger was kindled. Then the fire of the Lord burned against them, and consumed some outlying parts of the camp. But the people cried out to Moses; and Moses prayed to the Lord, and the fire abated. So that place was called Taberah, because the fire of the Lord burned against them.
The rabble among them had a strong craving; and the Israelites also wept again, and said, “If only we had meat to eat! We remember the fish we used to eat in Egypt for nothing, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic; but now our strength is dried up, and there is nothing at all but this manna to look at.”
Now the manna was like coriander seed, and its color was like the color of gum resin. The people went around and gathered it, ground it in mills or beat it in mortars, then boiled it in pots and made cakes of it; and the taste of it was like the taste of cakes baked with oil. When the dew fell on the camp in the night, the manna would fall with it.
I urge you, brothers and sisters, to keep an eye on those who cause dissensions and offenses, in opposition to the teaching that you have learned; avoid them. For such people do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own appetites, and by smooth talk and flattery they deceive the hearts of the simple-minded. For while your obedience is known to all, so that I rejoice over you, I want you to be wise in what is good and guileless in what is evil. The God of peace will shortly crush Satan under your feet. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer writes:
“Folly is a more dangerous enemy to the good than evil. One can protest against evil; it can be unmasked…. Evil always carries the seeds of its own destruction, as it makes people , at the least, uncomfortable. Against folly we have no defense. Neither protests nor force can touch it; reasoning is of no use; facts that contradict personal prejudices can simply be disbelieved – indeed, the fool can counter by criticizing them, and if they are undeniable, they can just be pushed aside as trivial exceptions. So the fool…is completely self-satisfied; in fact, he can easily become dangerous, as it does not take much to make him aggressive. …we shall never try to convince a fool by reason, for it is both useless and dangerous.”
Bonhoeffer wrote this in the context of the political turmoil in Germany between the World Wars, but I think he reached for a deeper truth that affects us all. His quote about the seeds of evil have been echoed through the ages by others, including a predecessor of His, Mark Twain as well as the contemporary writer Neil Gaiman. I think both of these gentlemen would be considered religious skeptics of one sort or another, but they were able to recognize that evil is generally not the best option. Short term gain often equals long term pain.
Yet, according to Bonhoeffer, there is another thing that may be even worse than evil: Folly. Foolishness. This is actions done without malice, but also without thought or care. These actions are overwhelmingly done in the name of cravings.
Cravings do not come with reasons and rationales, so we do the work ourselves in creating excuses for them. The means of the craving often matters little. It can be food, sex, money, power, popularity, approval, conquest, drugs, or any other act that brings us sensation. Sometimes the sensation does not even have to be pleasurable. Many people overstimulate themselves with numbing drugs like alcohol, in order to stop feeling whatever pain, sadness, loneliness, or boredom, they are presently experiencing.
Patience and craving are archenemies and one will eat the other in our bodies, minds, and souls. Paul, in his letters to Rome and Corinth, and perhaps even more explicitly in Galatians that when we submit to our cravings instead of mastering them ourselves, we become people of discord that breaks up the unity of the community of faith. Instead of obeying the Spirit of God, our cravings drive us to compete against others and take from what they need to satisfy our wants. Craving subverts love, and often changes our attitude altogether so that we trade true love (patient, kind, forgiving, etc.) and begin to call the object of our craving our love instead.
“If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is contrary to you, but you must rule over it.” – Genesis 4:7
What cravings affect you today?
How can you master them and free yourself to love God and others unhindered?