We Complain Because We Forget

I am stunned every time I read the story of the exodus. How can the people of Israel complain like they do? How could they be so ignorant, so stupid, so forgetful?

The God of the universe had just tossed around the most powerful man on the face of the earth like a toddler with a rag doll. God didn’t just humble Pharaoh; he broke his spirit and revealed Pharaoh’s impotence. A slave people and their God left him and his nation in shambles. This display of power sent vibrations throughout the world, inspiring fear and awe.

The Deadly Disease of Spiritual Amnesia

Yet Israel’s response to this spectacular deliverance from Egypt is not mainly praise, worship, and wholehearted trust. Instead, Israel responds with grumbling — complaining, murmuring, quarreling. “No water, Moses! Where’s the beef, Moses? I have blisters on my feet, Moses. Who died and made you boss? Are we there yet, Moses?” Spiritual amnesia set in quickly and covered the eyes of Israel’s hearts. So soon had they forgotten God’s gracious and miraculous deliverance?

This spiritual amnesia — forgetting God’s deliverance and provision — is a deadly disease. The people of Israel, on the heels of unthinkable miracles, with their pockets full of Egyptian jewelry, grumble at their less-than-five-star accommodations in the desert. This wasn’t just headache-induced grumbling or low-blood-sugar complaining. This was faithlessness. It is the heart that says, “I know better than God. If only he would follow my plan.”

Why We Complain

And yet that’s my heart and yours. “Where’s the dinner, honey? Leftovers again? Where’s the protein? Is that all you got done today? Can you change the dirty diaper? What’s this sticky stuff on the chair?” I can be just like the people of Israel. “I know you’ve forgiven all my sins at the cross, rescued me from eternal conscious torment, and given me everlasting joy in your presence, but all we have for dinner is ramen or Cheerios.”

“Grumbling is not ultimately the heart’s response to circumstances, but to God.”

Grumbling, whining, and thanklessness are not ultimately the heart’s responses to circumstances, but to God. Israel grumbled at their enslavement, grumbled when Moses came on the scene, and still grumbled as they wandered safely in the wilderness. Their complaining wasn’t rooted in their scenery, but their heart.

The same is true for you. A heart of gratitude and thankfulness isn’t dependent on your bank statement, doctor’s diagnosis, or the praise you receive for a job well done. Thanklessness and grumbling — regardless of your situation, even your suffering — reflect your heart. They are sin. Spiritual amnesia is a deadly disease that threatens your faith and your joy more than any cancer. It penetrates to the core and rots your heart from within.

Chemotherapy of the Soul

How can we guard ourselves from this spiritual forgetfulness? How can we root out the cancer that threatens our joy and faith? Very simply the antidote is to remember. Remember God’s gracious deliverance and redemption. Establish it in your memory. Memorialize it. Paint it on the walls of your house. Journal it and reread it each morning.

God gives us this pattern in the exodus. Israel has just been given their menu for the next forty years: manna from heaven. Gather six days, a double portion on the last, and rest on the Sabbath. But then God commands Moses to take an omer of manna (about two quarts) and keep it in a jar as a reminder of God’s faithfulness (Exodus 16:32–33).

There are two miracles here. The obvious is that God fed a couple million people with manna from heaven for forty years. No gluten allergies, no low-carb diet, and no lack of vital nutrients. God sustains his people miraculously to teach them he can and will provide their daily bread — everything they need.

The second is that the manna in the jar did not spoil as it normally would (Exodus 16:20). God kept the manna from spoiling to remind Israel that he not only keeps manna from spoiling, but that he will keep his people alive, even in the wilderness. This jar of white flakes was to be an enduring reminder that God provides. He provides in the exodus from Egypt, and he provides in the desert wasteland.

We Must Remember

God is saying the same thing to you. Since we’re inclined to grumble, to be thankless, and to complain about our circumstances, God graciously reminds us that we must remember his gracious redemption and provision.

“Take a moment and look back on God’s fingerprints all over your life.”

Take a moment and look back on God’s fingerprints all over your life:

  • Remember how God has protected you from making shipwreck of your life.
  • Remember how God graciously let you grow up in a godly family.
  • Remember how God awakened you to the ugliness of your sin.
  • Remember how you walked away from that terrible car crash.
  • Remember how your wife, sister, or mom survived breast cancer.
  • Remember how you had mentors and key friends guide you in your faith.
  • Remember how God sustained you during that season of unemployment.
  • Remember how God miraculously healed you.
  • Remember that impossible prayer request that God answered.
  • Remember how you had no money and an envelope just showed up in the mail with exactly the amount you needed.
  • Remember how the gospel came alive as it never had before.
  • Remember God.

The antidote to spiritual amnesia is making every effort to recall and remember God’s gracious deliverance. The fact that you — a sinner who was an enemy of God — are now a beloved child is a miracle. Don’t let that wonder ever fade. Remember.

Let this act of remembering awaken in you joy in God and a deep sense of gratitude that God loves you, knows you, and keeps you.