Reflection for Today ▶️ ⏩ ⏹️
Getty Images/Andrew Lichtenstein
And the children of Israel said unto them, Would to God we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the flesh pots, and when we did eat bread to the full; for ye have brought us forth into this wilderness, to kill this whole assembly with hunger.
— Exodus 16:3
The Israelites are despondent, regretful and likely afraid. They wonder, as perhaps we all do in similar circumstances, is it better to be imprisoned and satisfied, or to be free and wanting? We all value freedom, that is we say we value freedom, but paradoxically freedom isn't free. It comes with the burden of choice. When we are imprisoned, no matter how poorly treated (except in the direst of circumstances) our basic needs are taken care of, our schedules are determined and tomorrow is predictable, safe. When we leave our prison we must fend for ourselves, and we may face hardship. We must work; we must make choices and take action. Today we may struggle, and tomorrow is unpredictable, possibly unsafe. We choose freedom not because it is the easy option, but because it is purposeful.
And yet there's still another paradox. We think we choose freedom but we enslave ourselves, not to a jailer but to a leader. As accustomed as the Israelites had grown to depend on their captors, so now they depend on Moses, sheepishly following when times are good, complaining and blaming when times become difficult. Demanding but rarely offering. That's us. That's us in politics, in work, always seeking a leader to follow, never truly wanting the freedom to make our own choices, and our own mistakes. It's much easier to have a figurehead, one to worship when our desires are fulfilled, and to blame when they are not.
In what we call democracy in the west, we think we are voting for a system of governance, but the truth is we are voting for a person, someone to lead us, one person, a figurehead, someone to venerate and later to vilify. It's personality that draws us, not principles. Later we pay for our folly in disappointment and broken dreams, but we rarely learn from it. Our troubles are of our own making, arising out of our own expectations, our own fears.
Moses, the reluctant leader did his best in the face of persistent expectation and ingratitude, and his best was to shake off the reins the people had put in his hands, and return them to God, where they belonged. The repeated lesson of the wilderness years is this: we trust and God provides, we fear and God withholds.