On this holiday week I would like to take the time to complain. Yes I know, not exactly a change for me, but I think it is an important topic to clarify. I want to complain about all the people who say you should always be thankful for everything all the time. I want to be thankful for people who stand up and complain, at the proper time. It is easy to turn the complex wisdom of the Scripture into platitudes that apply to everything. But that’s not how it works. God doesn’t require you to go beyond what you are able, but we all have brains and we are supposed to use them. This should be simple, but sin makes it complex, we corrupt everything. And so it takes complex thinking to unravel the sin mess. Simple platitudes don’t fare well against complex sin.
Complaining can be a good thing. God asks us to cry out to him and there are countless instances in scripture of God’s people crying out to him and God hears their cry and changes something (Exodus 2). The whole Exodus story begins with the people crying out to God against their Egyptian oppressors. And God heard them and rescued them. We should remember that God had used the Egyptians to save the people of Israel (or literally Israel, another name for Jacob) from famine. Joseph said it was good. Genesis 50:20. Yet a little later the people of Israel are complaining against their Egyptian rulers. We can’t just make inspirational posters with simplistic formulas for every situation. Egypt which was once good under Joseph, had become evil. As the beginning of Exodus tells us. Egypt became afraid of Israel because they were multiplying, and so they kept repressing them more and more. Their complaints were justified. We need to be on the right side of what God is doing. There was a time when Egypt was the savior, and a time when they were the tyrant. The same is possible with any institution, be it King George III’s government or the Catholic Church in 1517. Those under the blessing of God have a responsibility to be thankful, those under tyranny have a responsibility to replace lawlessness with order. Early on Pharaoh recognized the blessing of God upon Joseph, and so he promoted him and was blessed. Later as the Israelites were blessed with lots of children, Pharoah didn’t recognize that blessing, he wanted to keep them down and have some free labor.
And that gets to the purpose or the motivation. There is a lot of confusion these days about what is evil or bad. It is so crazy that damaging someones’ delicate sensibilities is now the highest evil. Motivation is key. If you verbally attack someone because they did something to you and you are trying to get back at them, that is sin, because you are just looking out for yourself. If you tell someone they have committed a wrong in some way and you haul them before the proper authorities for justice to be done, that is good, even if they are innocent. The first person is selfish, the second is concerned for the law of good or the good of society. The same works with complaining. Addressing a complaint to the proper person, which is the person who did it, then up the chain if they don’t respond, is good (Matthew 18). Groaning about how bad things are for the sake of getting other people on your side, or because you can’t control your tongue, is bad. English seems to have a lack of words for these two things. Perhaps we could distinguish ‘whining’ from ‘making a petition’.
I think in the area of complaining this simplistic view has led to complacency in almost everything and even pacifism. We just let whatever happens happen, without a word or thought. There is a religion with a god like this, it’s not Christianity it’s Muhhamedanism. Or you might just call it laziness. The God of Christianity, has a real relationship with his people. He really wants to hear our problems, and he want’s us to boldly ask for them to change, sometimes. And if we don’t get it right away, and our cause is just, we should still keep asking until we change or the situation changes (Luke 18 1-14). We are called to minister to a broken world, but complacently letting it fall apart is not ministering, it’s withholding the light, it’s depriving the world of the preserving power of salt. It’s stupid.
A good pastor should be complaining all the time. He should see the problems in his flock and address them. That is good preaching. If he is not addressing the problems of his flock he is meerly playing the us-vs-them game as he attacks other people. These are bad complaints. You can tell by evaluating their purpose. So what the Catholics or the Charismatics did this or that? Why point that out? What are we doing? Get the log out of our own eye. Protect the flock from the wolves in it’s midst, beware the sidelong glance with other flocks. He should also be aware of other tyrants trying to force their way on his flock, and he should hold them accountable. We see in Exodus the improper response to the blessings God was pouring out on Israel. Pharaoh, wanted to repress the people. The same thing happens today. Obama want’s to repress the blessings God has given to the west, or whitey as his pastor might say. This is because he is a jealous tyrant, just like Pharaoh. This often happens to God’s people, they are blessed and everyone wants a piece. ”It’s not fair.” Actually it is fair. God’s people are blessed for their faithfulness. And people who encourage the murder of innocent children and the furthering of sexual deviancy, are not blessed.
But a pastor shouldn’t be doing it for his own comfort or ease. Moses was God’s appointed instrument, but even he tried to do things in the wrong way at the wrong time, as he killed and Egyptian (Exodus 2:11-14), so God sent him into the wilderness for 40 years to cool off until the time was right. Then later the people were complaining, apparently rightly, and God sent them water from a rock Exodus 20. But Moses was upset and struck the rock instead of speaking to it, as a result he was the one punished. He was not allowed to enter the promised land. Sometimes even the right leaders, are doing it wrong, and need correction.
History can teach us much on the subject. The people of the thirteen colonies in America had the highest biblical literacy, and probably the highest percentage of faithful Christians, of any nation ever. They were mostly Puritans who came over here seeking to spread the Gospel and establish a Christian community for all the world to see, a city on a hill. And they did, and they were blessed for it. Fifty of the fifty-five signers of the Constitution were faithful, trinitarian, Christians. And a similar number for the Declaration of Independence, which was a list of complaints against George III. He saw this people being blessed and he wanted some of the action. He was a corrupt tyrant(of course he was nothing to the tyrants we have today). The people rightly objected. They sought every legal measure, possible. They waited patiently. They prayed. Then things escalated. They threw the taxed tea in the harbor. Nothing else was touched, unlike the mess we have going on in Ferguson. The Pastors were the ones leading the charge to hold the King accountable for his lawlessness. They were called the Black Robed Regiment. It was a principle which that godly people knew very well, it was a doctrine they carried in the notes of their Geneva Bibles. Notes written by Calvin expounding on the scripture. It was the theology of the duty of lower magistrates/leaders to stand up to the tyranny of upper magistrates/leaders. Then they told the king they were leaving. He didn’t like that very much and he started a war. As a result the Colonists, won. They won more law and order. It is clear God was on their side, and their cause was just, even though they complained.
Shortly after that another ‘revolution’ began in France. It was not based on forming a more godly, or a more lawful society. It was formed by mobs of people griping and wining against God, and actually spitting in His face. They actually sought to overthrow the 7 day week because it was based on traditional Christianity. It was all about selfishness. And as a result, all of the original leaders were killed by the mob they incited, the cult to madame guillotine. France has never recovered. To this day they are a chaotic malaise, soon to be overtaken by multiculturalism, as they were by the germans time and again. This is very similar to the rioting in Ferguson. Where is the evidence that these people can take care of themselves? If you won’t govern yourself, God will send a government to stop the evil (Romans 13).
There is a time and a way to complain. And there there is a time to be thankful. And both need to be precise. Don’t just thank God generically. How would your spouse like it if you just told them you loved them like a lame generic praise song? Tell them specifically. Tell God specifically. And if you have a problem with something he is doing tell him specifically. And if your brother sins against you, let it go, unless it is a larger issue affecting many people. Think these things through. Don’t forget to complain when you can change something for the better. For his will on earth as it is in heaven.