Complain, complain, complain…

I remember learning the hard way that saying, “Hello, how are you doing?” is more than a greeting; it is a question. New neighbors had recently moved in across the street from us and the lady of the house enjoyed poor health. Seeing her walking to her mailbox at the street curb, I politely said, “Good morning Mrs. Manicotti (not her real name); how are you doing today?”

Wrong move. Instead of the expected, “Fine.” or even “Not very well.” I received an organ recital. After reporting about her headaches, ear ache, infected, sinuses, she went on in great detail regaling her sore throat, upset stomach, bowels… I quickly learned that she was a habitual complainer who should never be questioned about her health. It was much better to say, “Hello.” And quickly move on.

We’ve all been around people like that. Nothing seems to suit them. And so, they vent their displeasure on whomever will listen. It gets old fast. We quickly tire of hearing complaints all the time.

Nevertheless, most, if not all of us have become very adroit at complaining. We’ve practiced it so much that it’s almost an art form. Unwittingly, we have become like Mrs. Manicotti.

It may or may not surprise you, but God has quite a lot to say about complaining. Much of it is negative. And more positive than you might think.

This blog will focus on the negative.

Grumbling, complaining and murmuring: God’s Old Testament people, the Israelites, were skillful at this. Understandably, they griped about their servitude in Egypt. Who wouldn’t? These slaves were treated terribly. Pharaoh ruthlessly oppressed them. In response, the Israelites complained. They groaned because of their misery and called out to God. God answered their cries for rescue by sending a man named Moses to deliver them out of their captivity.

Once delivered from the bondage of Egypt, God’s people continued to face opposition as they journeyed to the promised land. Their problems often centered around food and water. This vast hoard, conservatively estimated at 2.5 million people, plus herds of animals, would obviously consume massive amounts of food and water. Whenever there was a dearth of supplies, the people repeatedly responded by grumbling, complaining and murmuring against the Lord God and his representative, Moses. The biblical narratives report that God takes these actions personally. That is, complaining is a personal insult on either God’s goodness or his power. That is, complaining calls into question God’s commitment to his people or his ability to do what he promised. Either way, complaining about circumstances is seen to be an affront to the LORD God.

This is not only a problem, which occurred among Old Testament people. The Apostles Paul and Peter admonish us to stop grumbling and quarreling. Consider for instance, Philippians 2.14 – 15: Do all things without grumbling or disputing, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world…

I am sad to report that I have followed their poor example and negatively influenced others to pursue this path. I have not always been a shining light in the twisted and distorted world in which I live. And neither have you.

So, complaining seems to be a common sin. One of the reasons for this, (in addition to our inborn rebellion against God), is that life is hard. Everyone, let me repeat, everyone faces hardships and difficulties. Difficulty and frustration commonly characterize our circumstances. Disaster and distress devastate our life experience. We all know that life is not supposed to be this way, but it is. We somehow think that if something would change, life would be wonderful. We see this being played out in the American political scene. The Democrats dream that if only Hillary Clinton had been elected, we would be on the road to prosperity for all. Republicans, both pro and anti-Trump, opine that true societal progress will result from returning to traditional, or perhaps even biblical, values. Our hope for improvement in progress is in human development.

People fail to see the real issue. The problems are not only political and social. They are personal. Things are not as they should be because we – all people, both individually and collectively, have persistently rebelled against God. In pronouncing judgment against this rebellion, God has made frustration and chaos major players in our experience. The sad news is that God intends to continue his judgment against continuing rebellion. For as long as people rebel against God and reject his authority, God will be against them.

So, this is our common dilemma. We experience trouble and frustration; we innately know that this is not how things ought to be. Yet, this is the way they are. Man-made efforts to change are ineffective, yet remain most attractive to us. We tend to look anywhere and everywhere except to God, who is the sole source of help and relief.

In his Word, God explains the reason for our turmoil. However, to get a better understanding of this, we need to catch up on a few things, especially the context.

God had placed Adam and Eve in a beautiful garden and provided all that they needed. Not only was the garden beautiful to look at, but it also provided delectable fruit, and presumably veggies to eat. There was one tree, however, which was off-limits; it was the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Of that tree, God said, you shall not eat. With the prohibition, he also announced a consequence or penalty. He said, “In the day that you eat of it you will surely die.”

Why was it wrong to eat of the fruit of this tree?

This tree was distinguished from the others because of what God said about it. Adam and Eve were instructed by their gracious Creator, who had provided all they needed for their enjoyment; commanding them not to eat from it.

Then came the serpent, who introduced doubt and then questioned the goodness of their Creator. Initially, Eve argued with the serpent, but eventually, she succumbed to his scheme. As a result, sin and rebellion against God entered the world.

God confronted the rebels and pronounced three words of judgment. The first is in verse 15. “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.”

God then pronounced his words of judgment on both of our first parents. Although both are given specific punishment for their individual rebellion, there is one common characteristic: pain.

This Hebrew word translated pain refers to hard, difficult, troublesome work. It carries with it the ideas of distress and toil. It describes physical and emotional discomfort and spiritual anguish. Obviously, it’s a loaded word that aptly depicts our human experience.

It is vital that we consider verse 15. Which has traditionally been referred to as the “Protevangelium.” There is development in this verse. It traces the enmity between two individuals (the serpent and Eve) to a final denouncement: the woman’s offspring or seed (singular) will crush the head of the serpent. This is the first announcement of the Good News of the Gospel. It contains the earliest promise of the coming of Jesus, a prophecy that his appearance will climax an extended conflict.

The conflict between the seed of the woman in the seed of the serpent is the plot line for the entire Bible. It is also the theme of human history.

Next time, we will consider complaining from a positive perspective. For now, here are some things to think about – a pop quiz!

  1. What is complaining?
  2. Why are you a complainer?
  3. What is your hope for a better future?

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