Another Year, Another Madden:  Why We Reject the Manna (Exodus 16, Numbers 11)

The video game industry is nothing if not cyclical, and for good reason.  Launching a new intellectual property carries an exceptionally high cost and massive risk as new game engines must be developed, characters focus-tested, and advertising purchased to secure the new title a spot in the ever-crowded minds of the desired audience.  But when you have a well-branded and familiar license such as the NFL and a franchise that has equally saturated the market like Madden, it’s really hard to blame a company for playing it safe and cranking out a football game each year that is only incrementally different than its predecessor.  And yet each year the plaintive cries of both gamers and football fans alike are heard, asking “What is going to be different in this year’s Madden?”  And then the inevitable cavalcade of complaints appear shortly after launch, in spite of the fact that the game year after year is imminently playable, frequently supports at least a handful of new features, and is always graphically improved over the prior iteration. The game features a football, has football players in it, and they do football things while playing football.  Honestly, what else are we hoping for?

I have been guilty on many occasions of expecting too much from a gaming experience, and perhaps it is because every now and then an over-achieving title comes along that truly does raise the bar and fundamentally shift the playing field and each time I plunk down my $60 I am expecting that to happen again.  Or maybe it’s because I have a vision for what the game could have done differently to improve it, and because I am married to my perspective it is hard not to see anything that doesn’t live up to those standards as a disappointment.  And due to my experience with other games, I can easily pick pieces from them and wish that these elements were successfully integrated into the disc that is currently residing, unloved and under-appreciated, inside my gaming console.  My limited and finite mind can see how this could be so much better, so why isn’t it?

That is the same dilemma that existed immediately after the epic events of the Israeli escape from Egypt and the dramatic drowning of the Egyptian military in the Red Sea.  In a scene that would surpass and embarrass the best special effects we are capable of producing, the Almighty God capped off an unforgettable series of supernatural plagues with a watery fatality that was the knockout punch for an entire country.  So it’s a little surprising that these very same people who just held front row seats to this spectacle are already complaining about the challenges of this new life and how much better it used to be only one chapter later.  In Exodus 16 we find these recently released slaves favoring their former lives due to the food that was available, and God in His grace provides an elegant and miraculous solution in the form of “manna”.

Manna, as described in the Bible, was a type of grain that tasted like pastry bread when prepared.  Mmmmm…. Doughnuts. This daily bread was provided free of charge every morning with the exception of the Sabbath day, and each person was instructed to collect enough each day to meet their needs.  It would appear on the ground in the morning and all that had to be done was to pick it up.  Problem solved, right?  Unfortunately, not so much.  In Numbers 11 the complaining sets in again, as they remember the apparently endless buffet of food they enjoyed during their years of slavery in Egypt.  Wishing they had the produce of servitude over the bread of freedom, they have the audacity to say “all we have is this manna”.  Keep in mind that this was only meant to sustain them until they reached their destination, a land of plentiful food and resources.  But unable to see past their immediate desires and endure the slight hardship of repetitive free food on this journey  they continued to crave a lesser life than accept gradual progress towards their true destiny.

It is easy to sit from this perspective and see the folly of this, but the truth is there are many times in my life that I have received grace and support from the Lord only to become bored with or ungrateful for the very thing I had begged for just weeks or months prior.  Sometimes we actually allow the miraculous protection and provision of God to become mundane, failing to see the multitude of ways each day he protected us from a car wreck, had someone call right when we needed it, or simply kept our heart beating through the night.  It can be easy to see Him when He parts the Red Sea, but do we see Him each time the paycheck clears the bank?  Or when your particular groceries happen to be on sale this week?  He is there providing our daily manna, often thanklessly, but oftentimes I know I have been guilty of taking it for granted.

On the other hand, it can be the presumptuous nature of our human intellect that can get in the way.  Despite our incredibly limited life span and finite world view, we can always see a better way.  Lord, if you can provide manna, surely you could slap a little tomato sauce on top and make some pizza, right?  Our prayer quickly turns to MY kingdom come, MY will be done.  But their attempts to turn God into their personal wilderness caterer backfired pretty spectacularly, as he became fed up with their incessant complaining and finally punished them by refusing to let them complete their voyage and enter the long-awaited promised land.  There is a stern warning carried here, and I know this challenged me to see the areas of my heart that were still yearning for those days in Egypt and realize how that looks to my Deliverer.

As a gamer, I realize that I have it pretty good.  Most of the experiences I have had surpassed my ability to imagine or create, and whether this year’s Madden is your first or twentieth it will be a quality release that may not have all the bells and whistles we want but it will be the only football game on the market.  That makes it the BEST football game on the market by default.  In a very similar way, God has a specifically designed path for each of us, and it won’t always feel like the yellow brick road.  Many times it takes us straight through the valley of the shadow of death, as David so eloquently puts it.  But it is the only path available to us that will take us to our destiny, and the choice to alter it does not exist. The manna may not be what we wanted or would have chosen , but His daily bread WILL sustain you.  He doesn’t do leftovers, and it is designed so that we have to lean on Him each and every morning to make it through another day.

If the hand you’ve been dealt doesn’t feel like the life you were promised, consider that you and I are still on the wilderness journey.  If the manna tastes a little flavorless, remember that this is just the trail mix sustaining us until we reach the destination.  And have faith… The fact that the manna appeared on the ground again today is proof that He knows right where you are, He is still with you, and you are still on your way!

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