“Never Good Enough”Categories: Iron sharpens iron
And the people spoke against God and against Moses, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and we loathe this worthless food.” (Numbers 21.5-6)
When you know where to look, there’s a lot of comedy to be found in the Bible. The children of Israel, often so-called, are putting their childishness on display in this episode! In a single sentence they have complained that they have no food, and also that they don’t like their food. Their overwrought criticism is typical of a dissatisfied, entitled child, and we might translate their grievance thus: you’ve given us food, but that’s not good enough! We may laugh at the Israelites’ folly, but as always, they’re not the only ones to behave like this; we’re all difficult to please, and never seem to be fully satisfied.
Since elections to offices local, state, and federal were just held all across the country, political circumstances are more sharply in focus than usual. Try to fashion a concise political philosophy that will address all of society’s ills. If you were in charge, how would you fix all of the problems? Much needs to change, right? Because what we have now isn’t good enough. Of course, you’re not the supreme ruler of the world, but if you were, and you enacted your own policies, it still wouldn’t be enough. We’re never satisfied—and neither were the Israelites! God fashioned for them a system of governance set forth and bound by the Law he himself gave them from on high; within those relatively lax boundaries, he appointed prophets and judges to speak on his behalf, pronounce judgments, and lead the people in war and peace. How many people have died in the quest for a degree of that liberty? And yet the Israelites said it wasn’t good enough. They wanted a king! God warned them through Samuel the prophet that this was a bad idea, and that they would come to regret it when their kings got it into their heads to reign.
But the people refused to obey the voice of Samuel. And they said, “No! But there shall be a king over us, that we also may be like all the nations, and that our king may judge us and go out before us and fight our battles.” (1 Samuel 8.19-20)
We can see the same refusal to be satisfied with God’s blessings, in the personal sphere. What would it take, in the physical world, to make you happy and satisfied? When you get it, is it ever enough? We’re no different from Eve, who was given everything she would ever need, in God’s own lush garden. Satan tempted her with more. She was happy, until she realized something was being withheld. When she tasted the forbidden fruit, did it bring lasting happiness or satisfaction? Similarly, after David committed adultery with Bathsheba, the wife of his faithful servant Uriah, and then had him killed to alleviate the awkward situation it produced, the prophet Nathan told him,
Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, I anointed you king over Israel, and I delivered you out of the hand of Saul. And I gave you your master's house and your master's wives into your arms and gave you the house of Israel and of Judah. And if this were too little, I would add to you as much more. Why have you despised the word of the Lord, to do what is evil in his sight? (2 Samuel 12.7-9)
The message is clear: I gave you everything you could want! Was it not good enough? Like Eve, and like David, no matter how richly God blesses us, we manage to find fault with it, and go traipsing off in pursuit of the next idol we imagine will satisfy our longings.
When we scrutinize this behavior in others, it’s easy to pass judgment; when we see it in ourselves, we’re more inclined to make excuses. Let’s find the middle ground, and simply seek to understand. Why do we all do this? As often happens with our behaviors in the physical world, it’s a reflection of something far more important in the spiritual realm. Even if we don’t admit it or use the same words to describe it, each one of us is seeking perfection—and each one of us knows he has not achieved it. In the moral realm, whether we’re justifying our own actions or spiritually flogging ourselves for our shortcomings, it’s clear that we all know, just as we judge that it is never good enough, in the same way we are never good enough.
God knows this, of course, and has had it in mind since the very beginning. We can see an illustration of the point in—once again—the Israelites. Moses recounted their forty years of following God’s cloud of Presence in the wilderness:
And he humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord. (Deuteronomy 8.3)
He deliberately withholds some things, in order to teach us that we’re insufficient, and that we must trust and serve him. This also encourages us to look forward to the perfect rest with him, which we’ll never find on earth. Jesus embodies the perfection we’re all seeking. Do you want a king, like the Israelites? Jesus is your man. Want liberty? King Jesus guarantees it. He’s also the friend and brother who both showers innumerable and priceless blessings on you, and also tells you the uncomfortable truth, and demands that you give yourself over entirely to him. That brings us back to where we started: nothing is ever good enough in our judgment, and we’re never good enough, in God’s. But Jesus is good enough. If we will lean completely on him, trusting his promises and his commandments, he will forgive our imperfections, and give us lasting peace in this life, and the next.