By Elizabeth Prata
Yesterday I introduced the subject of lamenting. I looked at what happens when we allow grief to take over, and improperly expressed, can lead to depression, anger, or bitterness. I showed three biblical people who allowed that to happen: Jacob, Mrs. Job, and Naomi.
Today I’ll look at two biblical figures who expressed their grief in laments, properly, which even including complaining! David and Job.
Do all things without grumbling or questioning, (Philippians 2:14)
Do not grumble against one another, brothers, so that you may not be judged; behold, the Judge is standing at the door. (James 5:9)
Show hospitality to one another without grumbling. (1 Peter 4:9)
Nor grumble, as some of them did and were destroyed by the Destroyer. (1 Corinthians 10:10)
Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. (1 Thessalonians 5:18)
Uh-oh. How can complaining in any way be good? The LORD destroyed those in the desert who complained!
Let’s take a look at the definition of complaining, murmuring, and grumbling, just to see if they are synonyms-
MURMUR: denotes the semi-articulated mutterings of disaffected persons, (The International Standard Bible Encyclopaedia).
GRUMBLE: speaking works of complaint expressing dissatisfaction, implying a failure of proper relationship and possibly faith. (In Dictionary of Biblical Languages with Semantic Domains).
COMPLAIN: 1: expression of grief, pain, or dissatisfaction; 2 a: something that is the cause or subject of protest or outcry; b: a bodily ailment or disease. (Merriam-Webster’s collegiate dictionary).
Oops, I guess murmuring, grumbling, and complaining are close enough in meaning not to do any of them.
Then why does the Bible show David as a man after God’s own heart even though so many of the Psalms he wrote are full of complaints? And why is Job held to such a standard of faith when most of the first chapters of his book are complaints, yet “Despite all this, Job did not sin, ….” (Job 1:22a).
Let’s dig in.
We when we are experiencing deep grief, oftentimes we cannot even think straight. A roil of emotions comes bubbling up and often, out. We’re angry, and our flesh wants to blame, accuse, or otherwise vent about the thing that has happened.
As Mark Vroegop says in his wonderful book “Dark Clouds, Deep Mercy: Discovering the Grace of Lament, “The grief felt cruel.”
I’ll quote a lot from his book starting now.
Vroegop shows that there is a process to lamenting. It first begins with prayer, of course. He shows how to pray through the Psalms and Lamentations. Then-
“After we take our first step of turning to God in prayer, the next step is bringing our complaints to him. There’s a tension here. I’m sure you already feel it. Complain isn’t a very positive word. We don’t like complainers. It seems like the wrong response …Is complaining always wrong?” ~Vroegop
As mentioned, lamenting is a process, more clearly and scripturally outlined in his book, too long to go into in a blog. But complaining can be an acceptable next step after you set your prayers before the throne of God. Vroegop again:
If you read the psalms of lament, you’ll discover a lot of creative complaining. You’ll find expressions of sorrow, fear, frustration, and even confusion. In other words, the Bible is full of complaints. And apparently some of these were not sinful. In fact, they were set to music as an entire congregation sang their frustration.
But here comes the tension the author mentioned above. There is a difference between sinful venting and Godly complaint. He continues:
Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not giving you permission to vent self-centered rage at God when life has not turned out as you planned. I’m not suggesting for a second you have a right to be angry with God.
That’s good, and right. We saw too many verses above that warned against murmuring, grumbling, and complaining. If the LORD gives us quail, we eat the quail. If He gives us death of a loved one, we lament the loss, but properly. So, how? And how do we complain and not sin?
Psalm 10 begins with two strong complaints (verse 1)
1Why do You stand far away, LORD?
Why do You hide Yourself in times of trouble?
The Psalmist is complaining that the LORD seems far away in a time of what seems to be a national crisis of injustice. He seemed distant to the Psalmist, and as a result, unhelpful. This lament shows that the human condition in a state of grief is common to many. Where is God in this?
The psalmist even accuses God in the second line, accusing God of pointed disinterest. He is struggling with his pain and also struggling with God. Other Psalms deal with this feeling too, as in Psalm 22:1, Psalm 44:23-24, Psalm 80:12, Psalm 88:14,
Psalm 22:1-My God, my God, why have You forsaken me? Far from my help are the words of my groaning.
Psalm 44:23-24– Wake Yourself up, why do You sleep, Lord? Awake, do not reject us forever. Why do You hide Your face And forget our affliction and oppression?
Psalm 80:12– Why have You broken down its hedges, So that all who pass that way pick its fruit?
Psalm 88:14– Lord, why do You reject my soul? Why do You hide Your face from me?
Other Psalms complain of ‘how long, O Lord’. But there are some important things to remember as you cry out to God in your pain and lay out your frustrations. Vroegop again, and remember this is summarized, he explains each part and uses scripture in the book.
- Come humble. Proud, demanding questions from a heart that is believed it is owed something from God is never going to properly lament.
- Pray the Bible. We need the boundary of biblical language to keep our laments on track.
- Be honest. Even Jesus prayed ‘My God, my God why have you forsaken me?’ Take comfort in that. The Triune God is not surprised by your struggles or frustrations.
- Don’t JUST complain. Don’t get stuck in a cycle of laments that are solely complaints. Complaint is not an end in itself. We complain for the purpose of moving past it, and toward Him. ~Vroegop, summarized pp. 50-54
David composed many Psalms and some of them were laments. He mourned the state of the nation, injustice, personal sin, and more. He wailed, complained, asked, and ultimately and every time: REJOICED. You notice always, the transition in his songs occurred at “but” or “yet”. That is the moment David is turning from his frustrations and complaints to the Lord. This turning point hinges on trust. And trust leads to worship.
Grief properly expressed IS worship.Tweet
Job was the same. He had the same progression. Human questions and complaints end in humble worship and Job’s was no different. Throughout Chapter 23 Job complains of two things, summarized in verse 17:
But I am not destroyed by darkness, Nor by deep gloom which covers me.
In that verse Job complains of two things:
(1) That he was not cut off (i.e. removed from earth) before the great darkness fell upon his life (comp. Job 3:11-13).
(2) That he was not “covered,’ i.e. sheltered and protected, by the love and care of God when the dark days came. ~Source Pulpit Commentary
In Job 24:1 Job complains that the wicked seem to prosper and that the LORD seems not to be doing anything about it, before finishing his complaint (for the moment) and turning back to the doctrinal discussion with his friends as to why he might be suffering all these things-
Why are times not stored up by the Almighty, And why do those who know Him not see His days? (Job 24:1).
Why are things like this? Why are these things happening to me? Lord, don’t you love me? Why am I being treated this way? These are common questions that Job and David asked but were not rebuked. This is because ultimately they came humble, prayed the scriptures, were honest, and didn’t JUST complain.
In the end, Job was rendered nearly speechless as he encountered God:
Then Job answered the LORD and said, 2I know that You can do all things, And that no plan is impossible for You. 3‘Who is this who conceals advice without knowledge?’ Therefore I have declared that which I did not understand, Things too wonderful for me, which I do not know. 4‘Please listen, and I will speak; I will ask You, and You instruct me.’ 5“I have heard of You by the hearing of the ear; But now my eye sees You; 6Therefore I retract, And I repent, sitting on dust and ashes. (Job 42:1-6).
Even though Job complained, the LORD confirmed Job’s status as one of His own, and affirmed His satisfaction with Job when he spoke to Eliphaz next,
My wrath is kindled against you and against your two friends, because you have not spoken of Me what is trustworthy, as My servant Job has. (Job 42:7).
The key is, Job (and David) still held fast and professed confidence in God’s divine goodness. So if Job complained, questioned, wondered, and the Lord declared Job did not sin with his lips and was a trustworthy servant, we can take comfort in the same if we complain as part of the lamenting process with the same attitude.
As Matthew Henry said, Job spoke of the future state more often than his comforters, and he had also prayed and sacrificed for those who were persecuting him. Godly actions from a true heart even during the deepest of griefs are acceptable to God. When we’re grieving we tend to forget others or fail to see the future Light at the end of our mourning, and we turn myopic. That’s when selfishness can creep in.
As long our grieving complaints and frustrations are based on trusting the Lord, done in prayer with biblical language as the boundary, in humility, with repentance if necessary, it seems to me to be acceptable to God. I’d advise reading Vroegop’s book or his articles at Desiring God for more information on the narrow tension between biblical complain in grief and accusatory complaint in the flesh. Here is one below-
I find that most Christians strongly believe that a joyful response should characterize their suffering. But they don’t know how to reconcile their deep questions, honest struggles, and nagging doubts with the command to “give thanks in all circumstances.” The gap between their internal struggles and what they believe can feel like the Grand Canyon of a faith crisis.
Instead of stuffing our struggles, lament gives us permission to verbalize the tension. Psalm 13 begins this way. The Psalmist wrestles with why God isn’t doing more. ~Vroegop, from here, “Lament Leads to Praise“
Tomorrow I’ll finish with what lament is and the elements of lamenting. Also, music!