With apologies to the late Jerry Bridges (1929–2016) for co-opting his terminology, we may be due for a reminder to resist that most respectable of Canadian sins: complaining.
There are many reasons why Canada would win the gold medal every four years if grumbling were an Olympic sport. Whatever the reason, Canadians seem to have collectively agreed that complaining is not a sin or even a minor social faux pas; rather it is acceptable and even essential.
Allow me to define “Canadian” complaining. Ours is not the litigious kind, nor is it of the “give the Wal-Mart customer service desk a piece of my mind” variety. Our brand of complaining is not the bold and brash, in your face, “the squeaky wheel gets the grease” sort as that would be unCanadian. No, ours is more the “Israelites in the wilderness” kind, that all too subtle and insidious type of grumbling that is easier to hide and more pleasurable to engage in.
The same reality of passive-aggressiveness that potentially lurks behind our national catchphrase of “I’m sorry” also threatens to be the foundation from which we view what God is doing (or not doing) in our lives, especially during the current global pandemic.
As we read the story of Israel’s wilderness wanderings, we ought to digest it as a cautionary tale (1 Corinthians 10:6–12) and take seriously one of the main ways they sinned against God and thus one of the key reasons for his judgement of their complaining.
Complaining Questions God’s Plan
At the heart of complaining is discontentment or a lack of trust in God coupled with the mistaken belief that we know better than him. The various words in English used to describe the term in Hebrew are “grumbling” or “murmuring,” an onomatopoeic attempt to render the noise made when a group of people mumbles under their collective breath (the Hebrew could even be rendered “growls” like a lion). Where does this corporate disagreement happen? A heart of distrust towards our sovereign God.
One of the ways the Israelites complained against God was regarding his plan. For them, God’s path made little sense and by times seemed not only counterintuitive but counterproductive.
Numbers 21:4–5 is a good example of Israel complaining to God because of the route he had planned and the time it took to get to the goal. Numbers 21:4 says they spoke against God and Moses because they were “impatient.” Is anyone getting impatient during this time? Where are we going? How long is this going to take? What is God thinking? Perhaps we have even shared that sentiment.
Another source and object of their complaining was the leadership God had ordained. In Numbers 12:1–2 no less than Aaron and Miriam spoke out against Moses and pointed to their “status” with God as justification for doing so. In Numbers 14:4 the people rejected Moses and Aaron’s leadership and crafted the beginnings of a plan to return to Egypt. A final example comes in Numbers 16 where some non-priestly Levites rose up in complaint against Moses, Aaron, and God, with an argument that is one of the worst kinds, which is plausibly based on one aspect of truth while excluding others.
In our context, it may be that we have already been guilty of complaining about our leaders before the pandemic and now we feel even more emboldened and justified in doing so. Disagreeing with leadership is one thing, as is asking good questions and even requesting changes. Complaining is another, as it undermines the sovereignty of God and brings His choice into doubt (Romans 13:1–2).
Have we shared a post complaining about our leadership or the leadership of our neighbours to the south? Have we understood that our complaining about our leaders displays distrust in God’s sovereignty (Proverbs 21:1, Daniel 2:21)?
Complaining Questions God’s Provision
Perhaps the most common complaint of the Israelites throughout their long journey and period of waiting was a perceived lack of God’s provision. Whether it was the reality of non-potable water in Exodus 15:22–24, the lack of food in Exodus 16:1–3, a lack of water again in Exodus 17:1–3, or a distaste for the food God had faithfully provided in Numbers 11:4–6, whatever God provided was not enough or was not good enough.
Have we complained about God’s perceived lack of provision during this time? Do we believe him to be unfaithful when things do not go our way? Has his hand been shortened when our plans are disrupted? Is he no longer good?
Complaining Questions God’s Character
The most subtle and therefore potentially deadliest form of complaining is found in Exodus 16:4ff where the people, after grumbling against God’s perceived lack of provision, do not trust him even as he provides. They gather more than they need each day, ignoring God’s promise to provide their daily bread (Matthew 6:11) and then conversely they do not gather enough on the sixth day, ignoring God’s promise to provide for their Sabbath rest.
Have we “complained” during this time through hoarding our resources? Do we question that this situation is part of His good and gracious plan? Is he enough?
My fellow Canucks, let us realize how deadly the seemingly innocuous sin of complaining is. A heart of distrust and discontentment was at the core of the original sin, a silent complaint in the heart of our first parents that has spread its dark tentacles deep within our beings, and now threatens us not only because we are equally susceptible to distrusting our loving Father, but because we have seemingly disagreed with him that it is a problem. May we run to him; not away. Cast ourselves on his grace and mercy, repent our complaining hearts, and ask him for the strength to rejoice in His goodness every day. Even during a global pandemic.