Saturday, March 28, 2009

The Blessing of Hunger (Part 1)

A Plate by Mzacha

So He humbled you, allowed you to hunger, and fed you with manna which you did not know nor did your fathers know, that He might make you know that man shall not live by bread alone; but man lives by every word that proceeds from the mouth of the LORD.
Deu 8:3

Such an interesting phrase:  “He allowed you to hunger!”  Not “He forced you to hunger,” but “He allowed you to hunger.”

Think about that.

Let me tell you what this word “allowed” can NOT imply.  It is NOT a limitation of the sovereignty of God.  Some people cannot bear the thought of God deliberately sending hardship into human lives.  They try to make excuses for Him by saying, “He didn’t make that happen, He allowed it.”  And there’s a sense in which Scripture allows that point of view…within limits.  The mystery of God’s sovereign will and man’s responsibility is deeper than I can fathom, much less explain here.

But God forbid that we should ever see Him as a weak, spineless pushover of a father, one who could never say “no” to a petulant child or administer strong discipline (in love) when needed (Heb. 12:7-11).  He may even introduce hardship into our lives when we aren’t particularly in need of discipline, in order to further refine and purify us (Isa. 48:10).  And Scripture prohibits us from adopting the simplistic view that says, “things which make me happy come from God, and things which make me sad come from the devil” (Lam. 3:37-38).

No, when God says He allowed His people to hunger, it wasn’t an act of passivity on His part.  It was something He actively did to them.  So why is it “allowing” instead of “forcing?”  Because even though we sheep are too ignorant to see it this way most of the time, it is a privilege to undergo discipline, chastening, or any other form of hardship which our Father deems good for us. 

We don’t deserve His intervention in our lives.  He could passively allow us to go on amusing ourselves on the primrose path to destruction, and we would be getting exactly what we deserve.  But in His kindness, He allows us to experience His touches in our lives…both the pleasant touches and the unpleasant ones.  Both are intended for our good, and they will certainly accomplish the good for which He gave them.

And there can be little doubt that one of His greatest blessings is hunger.

Physical Hunger

Physical hunger is something that I know almost nothing about.  And if you’re reading this from a comfortable Western-style home, there’s a good chance you don’t know much about it, either.  We think we’ve felt hunger, and we use ridiculous phrases like, “I’m starving” when we’ve already eaten more that day than many people eat in three.

We are right to consider our full stomachs a blessing, and we ought to be sincere in our thanks to God.  But there’s a sense in which our full stomachs are a curse, and more hunger would be a blessing indeed.

Do you see the blessing in the verse quoted above?  The Bible says that God:

  • Humbled them.  Scripture is chock full of warnings about the dangers of pride, and it advises us of the blessings which come to the humble (for example, Jas. 4:6, Hos. 13:6 NIV).  Therefore, it is a blessing to be humbled.  If hunger is God’s tool for humbling us, then hunger becomes a blessing.
  • Fed them by miraculous means.  Can you imagine being personally fed by God every day, without any “middleman” in between?  God gave them this miracle in response to their hunger.  So hunger was a means of blessing.
  • Taught them one of life’s most crucial lessons…that we depend utterly on God.  Trust in God is prerequisite to happiness (Ps. 146:5), so the hunger that taught the lesson is a blessing.

There are other ways that physical hunger can be a blessing.  And we have a responsibility here.  Because hunger on the part of one person is an opportunity for service, sacrifice, mercy and love on the part of another.  We should never look at a truly hungry person and say, “Oh isn’t that nice, God is blessing them with hunger.”  Heaven forbid! (Jas. 2:15-16).  Hunger is a blessing only when used as a tool by our loving Father, and it’s a tool that is supposed to bring the beauty of compassionate care into people’s lives.  We’re supposed to be giving that care.  Throughout the past two millennia, it has been Christians who have done the most to feed the hungry.  And what a difference it makes when we do!

Finally, there’s this word of wisdom from the Proverbs:

A satisfied soul loathes the honeycomb, but to a hungry soul every bitter thing is sweet.
Pro 27:7

Hunger sharpens our appreciation of the food we receive.  Ever wonder why we rich Westerners are such discontented, psychologist-dependent, drug-addicted, easily bored people?  Partly it’s because we have ruined our own capacity for enjoyment.  We glut ourselves, never allowing ourselves to hunger, or to do without anything we want.  And because we are constantly satisfied, we constantly loathe the honeycomb.  After all, we had the honeycomb yesterday, too.  Don’t we need something new today?

Wouldn’t we be happier if we did without the extras, and learned to find even the bitter things to be sweet?  I’m not suggesting some sort of sick desire for suffering.  I am suggesting that our bloated lifestyles lead to their own kind of suffering…a chronic discontentment, an unhealthy forgetfulness of dependence, a pride that sickens our souls, and physical unhealthiness. 

It’s easy to say these words.  But here I sit, somewhat overweight, with food to spare in my fridge and my pantry and even on shelves in my garage.  Here I sit, a person who “gets the munchies” and eats whatever she wants, whenever she wants, even if her body doesn’t need it.  I’m preaching to myself, and I hope I’m listening.

The world’s economies are collapsing around us, and it may not be long before we learn what hunger truly is.  May we have the wisdom and humility to pray along with Agur:

Give me neither poverty nor riches— feed me with the food allotted to me; lest I be full and deny You, and say, "Who is the LORD?" Or lest I be poor and steal, and profane the name of my God.
Pro 30:8-9

Who knows with what miraculous provisions God will feed those who trust in Him in the 21st Century?  Who knows how He will bless us with the love and compassion of those around us?  Who knows how He will humble us?  How much more we’ll appreciate what little we have?

But there’s another kind of hunger that is an even greater blessing.  Next time, we’ll look at spiritual hunger.  I hope you’ll join us.

In the meantime, please leave your comments below.


Sharlyn Guthrie said...

Excellent insights, Betsy!

"I am suggesting that our bloated lifestyles lead to their own kind of suffering…a chronic discontentment, an unhealthy forgetfulness of dependence, a pride that sickens our souls, and physical unhealthiness."

This is so true!

Laurie M. said...

Amen, I say....with my big bowl of popcorn on my lap. Amen.

Kristen said...

You make excellent points! It bothers me how people turn away from our gracious and everloving God because of bad times that come in their lives. I wish more people would realize that with the good comes the bad and just because we are followers of God our life is not going to be perfect. If God made our lives perfect how boring would that be? And then people would begin to think they didn't need Him and obviously that is never His intention!

LauraLee Shaw said...

You have a way of getting into the courser meat in Scripture that many (including me) don't have the ability to explain. You do so with boldness, but also with grace. I cannot say I live up to this call, but I'd like to. I pray to. Thank you for spurring me on toward that end.

BethL said...

Betsy... You have a profound way of writing. What a blessing you are.

elaine @ peace for the journey said...

Can't wait for part two, Betsy. What a good God to "allow" us our hunger. Until I tasted of His filling, I didn't know what I was missing. Truly, to be fed by God's hands is the richest blessing I know. May I always be found grateful for the filling.

peace to you in this week~elaine

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