Complain to God
The last thing most adults want to hear are complaints; especially if those same adults also have young children living in their home. Maybe you’ve seen the images like the one above. I think that pretty well sums up how most of us feel about complaints. “Got a problem? Just take your number.” Often we don’t want to hear about the complaints and problems of others because we’ve got complaints and problems of our own to deal with. If we can “man up” and go to work with fake smiles on our faces then everyone else should be able to as well.
Of course when we reach the end of our emotional tethers with work issues, or family struggles, and we begin to complain to others that is different. When we encounter that same impatience that we express towards others we bristle and think, “If they really knew what I was going through then they wouldn’t be so dismissive.” Over time, you would think that having a shared experience both of hearing complaints and wanting to complain we would grow more empathetic to others. But more often than not I’ve seen the reverse is actually true. The older we get the more impatient and less understanding we become with the complaints of others.
The real tragedy though, occurs when we ascribe to God the same attitude towards complaints that we possess. And anyone who has read the account of Israel’s wanderings in the wilderness might think that they are justified in believing that God has about as much patience towards complaints as we do. Here’s one example.
At one point in Israel’s journey they complained to Moses and God saying, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and we loathe this worthless food” (Numbers 21:5). Upon hearing their complaint God sent fiery serpents among the people, and many were bitten and died. As reactions go it wasn’t that far removed from the grenade with a number attached to the pull pin. So what gives? Doesn’t this demonstrate that God doesn’t want to hear our complaints?
In a word, “No.” God wasn’t reacting to the complaint so much as the lack of faith which was lurking just behind that complaint. “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and we loath this worthless food.” That complaint should sound familiar to anyone with a teenager in their house. It sounds just like something I said to my mom frequently and she enjoyed hearing it about as much as God. Thankfully she didn’t have any snakes on hand. What the Israelites did was the equivalent of standing in front of an open fridge full of food while complaining loudly that there was nothing to eat. It simply wasn’t true. God had been providing the Israelites with manna to eat every morning. And when they got tired of eating only bread, God sent them quail. When they ran out of water He gave them water from a rock. And before all of that the Israelites had seen God inflict ten plagues on Egypt. They had seen God part the Red Sea and had walked through it on dry ground. They had witnessed how God destroyed one of the most powerful armies in the world as he drowned the army of Egypt in the sea. Their complaint about food while their bellies were full demonstrated a complete and utter lack of faith.
That incident doesn’t demonstrate God’s attitude towards complaints. Far from wanting to silence our complaints, God actually wants to hear them when they are brought to him in faith. It is impossible to live in this world and not experience trouble, suffering and heartache. Some of those causes of suffering are self-inflicted, while others are given to us without our permission. Some of them are trivial while others are traumatic. What God doesn’t say in the face of our suffering is “man up” or “Just put a smile on your face and deal with your problems silently like every other responsible adult.” Instead Jesus says, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28).
Jesus’ invitation to come to him with our troubles was not a break from the past, but a continuation of how God has always wanted us to approach Him. God welcomes our complaints when they come from a place of faith. The Psalms testify to this truth. Nearly a third of the Psalms are laments. These laments teach us to bring our complaints to God in all their variety. In these complaints the writer pours out to God his desolation (Psalm 22), repentance (Psalm 51), fear (Psalm 69), disappointment (Psalm 74), longing (Psalm 85), depression (Psalm 88), confusion (Psalm 104), sorrow (Psalm 137) or anger (Psalm 140).
Taken together, the book of Psalms teaches us that God doesn’t just grudgingly listen to our complaints, but that he openly invites us to come to Him with everything that weighs on our hearts. These Psalms of complaint are treasures. They give voice to our troubled souls. They model for us how to complain to God in ways that honor Him. And they are expressions of God’s grace and compassion for us because in them we find that we are not alone. Even in the moments we feel most isolated God is with us.
Learn from the Psalms how to be a faith-filled complainer. Remember Jesus’ words, “In this world you will have trouble, but take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).