Thursday, February 9, 2012

How to Complain to God in 3 Easy Steps

I used to think it was wrong to complain to God. I had overdosed on those stories where saints are portrayed as  positively craving new  opportunities to suffer for the love of God-- bursting into rhapsodies of delight at each new illness, inconvenience, and disappointment.  And so, when the thought would cross my mind in times of trouble—God, what on earth were you thinking to let this happen to me?—I thought I was being at least slightly sinful.

But King David and the other psalmists complained plenty. They go on in great detail about how bad life is at the moment, and ask God why he hasn't fixed things yet. They tell God they don't understand why he worked so many miracles in the past but doesn't seem to do so anymore.  They point out that non-believers are suggesting that maybe God is not so great if He allows  such  disasters to happen to His friends.  Amazing how very much like us these tribal folk of 3000 years ago are. 

We can't dismiss this by saying, "That was the Old Testament. Christians have sanctifying grace and know that our suffering has redemptive value."   Let's not forget that   the psalms were the  of prayers that Jesus  prayed. As he was dying, he cried to his Father with the ultimate complaint from Psalm 22, “My God, my God, why have your forsaken me?” We can assume he was giving us an example to follow. 

  Morning Prayer on Monday, Week II,  starts with a wonderful example of the biblical way to complain--Psalm 42. It opens with sheer poetry, expressing our deepest longing:
Like a deer that years for running streams, so my soul is thirsting for you, my God...
but soon the psalmist makes it clear that he is  pretty miserable:
My tears have become my bread by night and by day, as I hear it said all the day long,"where is your God?"
Then he recalls past times when things were going much better:
I remember...howI would lead the rejoicing crowd into the house of God...the throng wild with joy.
Now, check this out:
Why are you cast down, my soul why groan within me? Hope in God I will praise Him still, my savior and my God.
 A complete acceptance of suffering? Not quite. After this expression of trust, he is immediately back to complaining.
Why have you forgotten me? Why do I go mourning, oppressed by the foe? enemies revile me, saying to me all the day long, "Where is your God?"
Despite that, the psalm ends with the refrain,
Hope in God, I will praise him still, my saviour and my God.

The pattern is easy to see. Complain while trusting. Trust while complaining.

This makes perfect sense. In fact, it is what good (albeit fallen) children will do. Think of that fussy toddler screaming his head off while clinging to Mom's leg.  The whiny six year old whose favorite phrase is “That's not fair.” Or the  teenager pouting in her room. Despite each age-appropriate version of “why have you rejected me?”  they know, deep down,  that you love them and have their best interests at heart. Not that they are likely to say,“That's okay mom. I trust you  even if you don't buy me an Ipad.” These are fallen children we're talking about. But their continued trust is, I think, implicit. Maybe this is part of what Our Lord meant when he said we should become like little children.

Of course, it is better to follow up our complaints to God with explicitly stated trust in Him. And the psalms are excellent models of how to do this. Complain. Trust. Repeat.