Today is Tuesday, March 31. My name is Gina, and I welcome you back in our fifth week of Lent, as we give a few moments each day in reading God’s word, listening to Him, and praying together.
Theme: God invites us to complain to Him
Scripture: Numbers 21: 4-9 (The Message)
There are times when we experience a conflict with someone. It could be a spouse, a friend, a coworker, or someone at church. We have two choices: We can bitterly complain about that person to other people, making no attempt to work out the conflict with the person directly in order to preserve and grow our relationship. This is selfish and hurtful. Or we can go to that person directly, and in humble love share gently about the difficulty we are having with them, with the intention to resolve it together so that we can grow and deepen our relationship. This is loving.
The Israelite people, who had recently been rescued from centuries of slavery, abuse and oppression in Egypt, decided to take the first approach concerning God. We can learn from the story about how to complain the right way.
First, if we set this story into the larger context of the book of Numbers, and the even larger context of the Bible as a whole, we can see that there is a lot of complaining in the Bible. (See: Job; 1 Kings 17; Numbers 11: 1-4; Proverbs 19:3; Exodus 14: 11-12) In fact, there is an entire book of the Old Testament, Lamentations, dedicated to bringing complaints of suffering, bitterness and loss before God. But there are two ways that biblical figures complain.
Some, like the Israelite people in this story, complain against God. Others complain to God.
When we complain against God, we express an attitude that we know better than God—idolatry committed by putting ourselves in God’s rightful position as our Lord. And we reveal that we think God has done something wrong to us. The former is a rebellion against God’s authority. The latter is a charge against God’s very character as one who says He only works together everything for our good.
This is dangerous ground. Rebellion, and boldly charging God with acts of evil, will damage our relationship with Him. We make it harder to hear the Holy Spirit, because we are hardening our heart and closing our ears to Him as we distance ourselves from God. We hurt God when we choose this position—because God hurts when we hurt ourselves. We also invite discipline from God, just as the Israelites did.
We read this short story today in isolation from the larger story of all the miracles and provisions God had worked as he chose a backward, crushed, and enslaved multitude as His chosen people. What had they done to earn his favor and his attention? Nothing. Not one thing. He crushed one of humankind’s most powerful civilizations, Egypt, to free them from its oppressive power. He miraculously provided water in the desert, as he led them toward a land of their own that he had promised them. He appeared to them daily as a giant, billowing cloud that impossibly remained stationary near their encampments; and at night he made sure he was comfortingly visible as a tower of fire. When the billowing cloud or the tower of fire began to move away, the people knew it was time to pack up their camp and travel closer to their promised land. God also provided them a miraculous type of bread that covered the ground every morning when they woke up. All they had to do was pick up the pieces. This meant that after centuries of hard, back-breaking labor for the Egyptians, God gave them rest. They didn’t have to plant, cultivate, and harvest crops under the searing sun to eat. The food was just laying there, outside their tents, ready to be gathered up and eaten. The Bible tells us that it tasted like a delicate pastry.
After all these good, loving and gracious things that this mighty creator God had done for them, they had the arrogance to complain against God for supposedly treating them badly. They repeatedly complained that He had abandoned them to hunger, thirst and death in the desert, although they had never once been hungry, thirsty, or died because of His neglect. They even said that they preferred their violent and abusive Egyptian overlords to this God.
Worse, the Israelites did not just have a weak moment and complain against God once. They did it over and over and over. They illustrated the ultimate victim mentality. No matter how many wonders and miracles and loving provisions God showered on them, it was never enough. They demanded more, giving Him no credit for all that He had already done. And if He didn’t give them exactly what they wanted, the moment they wanted it, they shrilly cried out that He was a terrible God, and they didn’t want Him anymore. It was a power struggle. Can you imagine how much that must have hurt God to see and hear?
Disciplining them strongly was the only way to prevent them from recklessly and foolishly running back to Egypt and its slavery. And so, God disciplined them.
This is what we risk when we complain against God, refuse to give Him credit for all the ways He has blessed us until now, and then charge him with not being good.
But God does invite us to complain—to Him, in the context of our loving relationship with Him, rather than just about Him. When we run first to God, trusting Him with our pain and questions and cries for relief, God enfolds us in His loving arms and listens carefully. When we complain to God about our fears and struggles and feelings of abandonment, we demonstrate that we value the relationship enough to work on it with God. We also demonstrate that, although it’s hard for us to see right now, at the root of everything, we hold firm to our belief God is good, and that what He is allowing to happen or doing is ultimately for our good, even if it’s painful in the moment. We prove that we trust Him enough to hear our criticisms and complaints, and believe that we can improve the relationship by working on it together. Instead of engaging in a power struggle, we come to God in humility and surrender, asking that God change our situation or the way He is leading us.
It’s a beautiful thing that we have a God who invites us to complain. He wants us to bring our criticisms, questions, and even our bitterness and damaged trust in Him to Him. There is nothing we can say to Him that will alienate Him, as long as we do it with the desire to maintain and deepen the relationship. What a loving God we have!
- Have I complained against and about someone without making an effort to talk through the relationship with the person? If so, apologize to God, and pray that the Spirit would lead you in the right way to work on the relationship with that person.
- Am I afraid to bring my complaints and criticisms about God to Him and talk them over with Him? He wants you to trust Him enough with your honest feelings, questions and complaints. Talk to Him sometime this week about how you feel.
- Have I taken the risky position of charging God with doing evil to me, and the posture that I know better what is good for me than He does? Apologize now for this attitude, and bring it to God. Ask Him to help heal and soften your heart, and to transform your feelings of disappointment and bitterness to joy and love.
Our patient and loving God,
It’s so wonderful to know that You can handle, and even invite, all our harshest criticisms, complaints, disappointments, and questions. To be able to have such an open and honest relationship with You, as the God of the universe, is like nothing we experience with almost any other person. Thank You that sharing our complaints with and to You actually grows and deepens our relationship with You, rather than damaging or endangering it.
When we are tempted to back away from You, to think we know better what is good for us, and to charge You with doing evil to us, protect us from giving in to that temptation. In our weakness, if we fall into this temptation, please forgive us and lovingly lead us back to You.
Teach us how to open our hearts and give You our complete honesty in a posture of trust and surrender.
Thank You for Your endless and unconditional love.
In the name of Jesus, Amen.