And the whole congregation of the people of Israel murmured against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness, and said to them, “Would that we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt… for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.” (Exodus 16:2-3, RSV)
They have fallen so low. They have been delivered categorically from their real-world oppressors, and then have seen the Red Sea part, miraculously. Now they are afraid they won’t have enough food to survive. They blame Moses, together with his reluctant pal, Aaron. Moses himself, by the way, has been reluctant right from day one. He knows the heart of a man, and he knows what he can expect in this thankless task of exodus: a reluctant, persecuted people following a reluctant leader. Wanting to blame somebody, the Israelites turn against Moses. Despairing and with nothing more to lose, they think, Why don’t we just kill him, and elect somebody else. If he fails, then we can kill that one, too. How low can you go?
This pattern repeats throughout the Old Testament: the people beg for a leader, a deliverer—then they disobey, or revert to child-sacrifice, or form cults “under every green tree” (Isa 57:5). The people of the Old Testament are constantly rising, then falling, then rising, then falling. I don’t see how one can read the recession-regression chronicles of the Old Testament kings without having an honest view of human nature. The people then were no different from us. Our problems, the internal ones, stay with us from birth to death. Some excellent psychological rearrangements are possible, such as when you hear the Word of Grace or feel it embodied within a graceful person or persons. But we never cure our sinful human nature.
I see recidivism in non-Christians as well as Christians. St. Paul recognizes it in Romans chapter seven, in his portrayal of the universal human being (as did Donovan—“The Universal Soldier”—listen to it), who slips back, within herself or himself, all the time.
The historical fact that Jesus was given to the world, given this personal and meta-history of us each and all, is the wonder of saving life. It is the only way out of this that I can see, for it is fully tuned in to the very high and deep frequency of universal stumbling. “How loooow can you goooo?”