[Mar 17]--The Right Way To Complain

Jer. 12:1-4

You know, as a general rule, nobody likes a complainer. I’ve been in offices before with one coworker who’s complaining all the time, and you know how popular they are. If you live with a spouse who can’t ever be satisfied with the way things are, that’s a real burden.

So is it ever right to complain to God? Some would say no, and they certainly have Scripture that they can point to, like Romans 9:20—“Who are you, a human being, to talk back to God? Shall what is formed say to the one who formed it, 'Why did you make me like this?'" And I want to remind of you of my favorite clarifying question: “What exactly does God owe you?” The answer? Nothing but judgment.

But I talked about this last year when we looked at the Psalms. There are tons of Psalms which have complaints in them, which could be summarized thus: "Things are really stinking right now! I have enemies on every side, troubles too many to count, and it’s your fault God! What the heck is going on?! Why aren’t you doing something about this?" The Psalms are just as inspired as the Gospels, right? So in some sense, God the Holy Spirit wants us to complain to him.

As best as I can tell from Scripture, there’s a right way and a wrong way to complain to him, and I think in today's passage we can see a good example of the former. First, as a counterexample take the Hebrews under Moses’ care. They were constantly complaining, and when they did, they implicitly or explicitly impugned his character, as if he didn’t care about them or even was planning them harm, and that he’d been lying to them the whole time.

Let me give a purely hypothetical example. Let’s say that someone supposedly saw me having lunch with an attractive lady and told my wife about it. How my wife approaches me about it reveals much about her attitude towards me, specifically whether she trusts me or not. There’s all the difference in the world between A) “Hey honey, Bill saw you at lunch with someone today. So who was it?” and B) “So who’ve you been cheating on me with?” Now if I’ve ever shown a reason to make her doubt my fidelity, especially if I’ve ever cheated on her before, the tone in B) is reasonable. But if I’ve never given her a reason to doubt me, there’s a huge problem with her.

The point I’m making is that when tough times come or we see evil people prospering and good people suffering, we tend to react like with a B)-like attitude when the Lord has never ever ever given us real reason to doubt him.

So like Jeremiah here, when we question the Lord, we need to start out with an acknowledgement of his goodness. It might even seem like he’s treating us wrongly, but he’s not. We know that he's always righteous, in his dealings with us along with everything else he does. No matter what’s happening.

The other thing we need to keep in mind is that he really is in control. Some pseudo-theologians out there try to let God “off the hook” by pretending that when bad things happen, he’s really helpless to prevent them. Yes, people are responsible for their actions, and the Bible never hints otherwise. But the Lord is sovereign, and he ultimately ordains (or at least permits) everything that happens. See Jeremiah’s language: “You have planted them, and they have taken root.” It’s not by chance or fate or kismet. It’s the Lord who’s raised up these evil people and brought down the good.

Also we need to remember that what we see is not the end of the story. Jeremiah, in his rage at injustice, asked God to intervene and punish the guilty. And one day—at the proper time—he will. Sometimes we’ll see it in this life, but in the end everyone (outside of Christ) will get exactly what they deserve. As Longfellow said, “Though the mills of God grind slowly, yet they grind exceeding small; Though with patience He stands waiting, with exactness grinds He all.”

So when things look really bleak and you’re angry at him, let it out. Be honest with him. You’re not fooling him anyway. But do it right.

Father God, so many times I’ve come to you complaining, and you’re so patient. As I pour out my heart to you, I run out of accusing words and am silenced by you. Not by force, but by love.

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