I Pour Out My Complaint

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A few days ago The Gospel Coalition shared a podcast called “What Your Grumbling Says About God“, based on 1 Thessalonians 5:18. The pull quote said:

“If the Lord is entirely sovereign (which he is), and if he is always good to you in Christ (which he is), well then, when we grumble and complain in any circumstance, we’re actually denying God’s involved. Denying that he’s being good. And who do we think we’re grumbling and complaining against?”  

There were a lot of reactions to this, most of them asking how Scriptures like Job, the Psalms or Lamentations fit in such a categorical statement. 

The subject brought to mind a book I read not too long ago, The God I Don’t Understand, by Christopher J. H. Wright. One of the themes he talked about was the importance of lament. We have a tendency to think that faith is expressed by stoicism in the face of suffering, since “everything comes from the Lord”. Like the author of the podcast, we think that complaining, in any circumstances, is denying God’s goodness. But this is a burden that God does not place on our shoulders. Wright had some helpful things to say on this subject:

“In the Bible, which we believe is God’s Word, such that what we find in it is what God wished to be there, there is plenty of lament, protest, anger, and baffled questions. The point we should notice (possibly to our surprise) is that it is all hurled at God, not by his enemies, but by those who loved and trusted him most. It seems, indeed, that it is precisely those who have the closest relationship with God who feel most at liberty to pour out their pain and protest to God – without fear of reproach. Lament is not only allowed in the Bible; it is modeled for us in abundance. God seems to want to give us as many words with which to fill in our complaint forms as to write our thank-you notes. Perhaps this is because whatever amount of lament the world causes us to express is a drop in the ocean compared to the grief in the heart of God himself at the totality of suffering that only God can comprehend…

It surely cannot be accidental that in the divinely inspired book of Psalms there are more Psalms of lament and anguish than of joy and thanksgiving. These are words that God has actually given us. God has allowed them a prominent place in His authorized songbook. We need to find both forms of worship in abundance as we live in this wonderful, terrible world.

I feel that the language of lament is seriously neglected in the church. Many Christians seem to feel that somehow it can’t be right to complain to God in the context of corporate worship when we should all feel happy. There is an implicit pressure to stifle our real feelings because we are urged, by pious merchants of emotional denial, that we ought to have “faith” (as if the moaning psalmists didn’t). So we end up giving external voice to pretended emotions we do not really feel, while hiding the real emotions we are struggling with deep inside. Going to worship can become an exercise in pretense and concealment, neither of which can possibly be conducive for a real encounter with God. So, in reaction to some appalling disaster or tragedy, rather than cry out our true feelings to God, we prefer other ways of responding to it.

It’s all part of God’s curse on the earth.

It’s God’s judgment.

It’s meant for a warning.

It’s ultimately for our own good.

God is sovereign so that must make it all OK in the end.

But our suffering friends in the Bible didn’t choose that way. They simply cry out in pain and protest against God – precisely because they know God. Their protest is born out of the jarring contrast between what they know and what they see.”[1]

In this dysfunctional and painful world, we express our faith not by suppressing pain, feigning contentment, or trying understand everything, but by taking our lament before the presence of God – as the psalmists, prophets and other saints before us – while we await the dawn of the Day of justice.

Pour out your heart before him (Psalm 62:8)

Cast all your anxiety on him (1 Peter 5:7)

[1] Christopher J. H. Wright, The God I Don’t Understand (Zondervan 2008), pp. 49-52

A fitting prayer:

God With Us

And in despair I bowed my head;
“There is no peace on earth,” I said; 
“For hate is strong,
And mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!”

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead, nor doth He sleep; 
The Wrong shall fail,
The Right prevail,
With peace on earth, good-will to men.

H. W. Longfellow

In a world such as ours it is often difficult to feel hopeful or merry. Some are passing through deep, dark valleys of grief or illness or loneliness. Some suffer the devastation of war, oppression or persecution. This Christmas Day, may we be reminded of, re-grounded in, and re-kindled with the wonderful truth that God himself came to us in the flesh, abides with us and walks with us by his Spirit, and will return to us in the flesh. Our blessed Immanuel.

A Merry Christmas to you all!

Christianity 1.1: In for a Rough Time

Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children.
Hebrews 12:7 (N

“We must not be surprised if we are in for a rough time. When a man turns to Christ and seems to be getting on pretty well (in the sense that some of his bad habits are now corrected) he often feels that it would now be natural if things went fairly smoothly. When troubles come along – illnesses, money troubles, new kinds of temptation – he is disappointed. These things, he feels, might have been necessary to rouse him and make him repent in his bad old days; but why now? Because God is forcing him on, or up, to a higher level: putting him into situations where he will have to be very much braver, or more patient, or more loving, than he ever dreamed of being before. It seems to us all unnecessary: but that is because we have not yet had the slightest notion of the tremendous thing He means to make of us.”

C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity