The timeless to the timely: Applying Scriptural Truths to Today
2/12/14 at 02:46 PM 1 Comments

Is God Offended When We Complain?

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 Guest blog by Paul Bricker, hospital chaplain

 In the Bible, believers complain all the time when things go wrong. In fact, Lamentations is an entire book of complaints by Jeremiah, the whining prophet. And the Holy Spirit made it canonical, a part of the Bible! Thus, we whiners can learn a lot from passages like Lamentations 3:1-25, since I believe God wants us to learn how to complain!

Lamentations is a chiastic poem. The word “chiastic” comes from the Greek letter X which is pronounced chi.  A chiastic poem is ½ an X, if one cuts the X in half from top to bottom. One of the keys of a chiastic poem is that the central message may be in the middle of the poem. In the Bible, there are numerous chiastic poems. The structure of Lamentations is as follows:

Chapter I. Lament over Jerusalem. 22 verses.

      Chapter II. Lament of God's Heavy Hand over Jerusalem. 22 verses.

                   Chapter III. Lament over Jeremiah's suffering. 66 verses.

                   CENTRAL MESSAGE

    Chapter IV. Lament over Great loss of God's Favor. 22 verses.

Chapter V. Lament over Jerusalem and plea for God to consider mercy. 22 verses.

Lamentations also is an acrostic poem, in that in chapter one, two and four are twenty-two verses long and each verse starts with a different letter in the Hebrew alphabet. Chapter 3, which is the main point of the book, is made up of 66 verses. It too is an acrostic in that three consecutive verses start with the same Hebrew letter. The last chapter is not an acrostic but it is 22 verses long. When I read the first four chapters of this book, I hear it as if it were classical music with the third chapter being the climax. The last chapter, because it is not an acrostic, I hear it as a jazz quartet.

Lamentations is an intense book for several reasons: 1) It is an intense book because it deals with the subject of the fall of the Southern Kingdom and the fall of Jerusalem. 2) It is intense because it is a chiastic poem. Chapter 3 is especially intense because it is the apex of the book. 3) It is intense because it is an acrostic. In an acrostic, one mulls over a subject slowly as one moves through the alphabet. Thus, in chapter 3, we find Jeremiah mulling over suffering, using each letter of the Hebrew alphabet in triplets. (To put it into English, we find chapter 3 being: "Lament over Jeremiah's suffering “AAA through ZZZ.”) 4) Finally, Chapter 3 is intense because the words themselves are intense.

 We will only go over approximately 2/5 of chapter 3, since we will be looking at one of the most intense passages in the Bible. But, this sampling will show us how Jeremiah constructs his lament to complain to God. Since this lament is canonical, perhaps we will learn how God wants us to complain to God. Here’s how Jeremiah complains.

3:1 “I am the man who has seen affliction because of the rod of His wrath.”[1]

Jeremiah begins his complaint by telling God that Jeremiah has been beaten by the rod of God’s wrath. Most believers would have a hard time saying something like this to God.

3:2 “He has driven me and made me walk in darkness and not in light.”

Jeremiah tells off God by complaining that God has not guided Jeremiah into light but instead has been guiding Jeremiah into darkness. Most believers would have a hard time saying something like this to God.

3:3 “Surely against me He has turned His hand repeatedly all the day.”

Jeremiah tells off God by complaining that God has been slapping Jeremiah around all day long. Most believers would have a hard time saying something like this to God.

3:4 “He has caused my flesh and my skin to waste away, He has broken my bones.”

Jeremiah tells off God by complaining that God has been whacking Jeremiah around. Most believers would have a hard time saying something like this to God.

3:5 “He has besieged and encompassed me with bitterness and hardship.”

Jeremiah tells off God by complaining that God has encompassed Jeremiah with bitterness and hardship. Most believers would have a hard time saying something like this to God.

3:6 “In dark places He has made me dwell, like those who have long been dead.”

Jeremiah tells off God by complaining that God has guided Jeremiah to dwell in darkness and in abandoned graveyards. Most believers would have a hard time saying something like this to God.

3:7 “He has walled me in so that I cannot go out; He has made my chain heavy.”

Jeremiah tells off God by complaining that God has enslaved him. Most believers would have a hard time saying something like this to God.

3:8 “Even when I cry out and call for help, He shuts out my prayer.”

Jeremiah tells off God by complaining that God goes out of God’s way not to answer Jeremiah’s prayer. Most believers would have a hard time saying something like this to God.

3:9 “He has blocked my ways with hewn stones; He has made my paths crooked.”

Jeremiah tells off God by complaining that God has made Jeremiah’s way difficult. Most believers would have a hard time saying something like this to God.

3:10 “He is to me like a bear lying in wait, like a lion in secret places.”

Jeremiah tells off God by complaining that God is like a wild vicious animal toward Jeremiah. Most believers would have a hard time saying something like this to God.

3:11 “He has turned aside my ways and torn me to pieces; He has made me desolate.”

Jeremiah again tells off God by complaining that God is like a wild vicious animal toward Jeremiah. Most believers would have a hard time saying something like this to God.

3:12 “He has bent His bow and set me as a target for the arrow.”

Jeremiah tells off God by complaining that God has set Jeremiah up for target practice. Most believers would have a hard time saying something like this to God.

3:13 “He made the arrows of His quiver to enter into my inward parts.”

Jeremiah again tells off God by continuing to complain that God has set Jeremiah up for target practice. Most believers would have a hard time continuing to say something like this to God.

3:14 “I have become a laughingstock to all my people, their mocking song all the day.”

Jeremiah reports the cumulative effect of God’s harsh dealings with Jeremiah. Jeremiah has become the laughingstock of his people. If Jerusalem had at that time a top 40 count down, all top 40 songs would be mocking songs about Jeremiah. Most believers would have a hard time concluding that God’s guidance would lead to something like this.

3:15 “He has filled me with bitterness; He has made me drunk with wormwood.”

Jeremiah tells off God by complaining that God’s ways lead one into bitterness. Most believers would have a hard time saying something like this to God.

3:16 “And He has broken my teeth with gravel; He has made me cower in the dust.”

Jeremiah tells off God by complaining that God has made Jeremiah gargle with gravel and made him roll in dust. Most believers have a hard time saying something like this to God.

3:17 “And my soul has been rejected from peace; I have forgotten happiness.”

Jeremiah’s conclusion #1 from this section: Jeremiah has lost all internal consolation. He has no internal peace and cannot even remember happiness.

3:18 “So I say: ‘My strength has perished, and so has my hope from the Lord’.”

Jeremiah’s conclusion #2 from this section: Jeremiah has lost all transcendent consolation. He has no strength from the Lord and he has no hope from the Lord.

Now the passage experiences a major break. When it resumes, Jeremiah turns from complaint to petition:

3:19 “Remember my affliction and my wandering, the wormwood and bitterness.”

Through much of the opening section of this passage, Jeremiah’s suffering and bitterness have been like two hands squeezing against his throat. Jeremiah has been overwhelmed. An 800 pound lion of trouble has been gnawing on him. Now there is a change. Jeremiah starts out this section with the word: “Remember…” It is as if the 800 pound lion has become like a lap kitten that darts about under various pieces of furniture. It is still there, but is not dominating. “Remember…” What a great word!!! Jeremiah has to work to bring to remembrance his afflictions, his wandering, the wormwood and bitterness.

3:20 “Surely my soul remembers and is bowed down within me.”

Jeremiah says his soul remembers the awful ordeal he went through. But, instead of overwhelming him with anxiety, his soul no longer bows down to the anxiety. Something has happened.

3:21 “This I recall to my mind, therefore I have hope.”

Again, Jeremiah has to work to bring his anxieties to mind. When he does bring them to mind, he has hope and not overwhelming anxiety. Something has happened. He recalls his former overwhelming thoughts but now they bring him hope. His overwhelming thoughts have been transformed. They are like a prayer list. He brings them to mind and finds hope.

3:22 “The Lord’s lovingkindnesses indeed never cease, for His compassions never fail.”

This is the reason for the change. The Lord met with Jeremiah. Jeremiah has discovered that God loves him and that God’s love never fails.

3:23 “They are new every morning; Great is Thy faithfulness.”

The mercies have to be new every morning, otherwise the tide of the horrible experiences will overwhelm one’s soul and one will be filled with wormwood and bitterness. As with manna, I do not have to live off of yesterday’s provisions. I do not need to hoard yesterday’s mercy provisions. I can expect God’s lovingkindess to meet me new every single morning for the rest of my life. I can trust God for that special kiss every day. This is what it means to trust God. Great is God’s faithfulness!!!

3:24 “’The Lord is my portion,’ says my soul, ‘Therefore, I have hope in Him’.”

Jeremiah is celebrating. Jeremiah celebrates that the Lord is Jeremiah’s portion!!!

And his final verse of this section, 3:25, declares, “The Lord is good to those who wait for Him, to the person who seeks Him.”

But, where in this passage does it show that Jeremiah waited for God? Where in this passage does it show that Jeremiah sought God?

Jeremiah waited for God and sought God when Jeremiah complained to God in verses 1-18. By doing so, he learned about God’s heart. When we go through terrible experiences, like going to war, when we go through horrible trials, like going through a divorce, when we lose a loved one.... We can complain to God. We can come to God with all our burdens. We can use words that might seem to others hurtful or disrespectful to God. But, God is the One who interprets our groans…. God is the One who interprets our sighing…. God is the One who interprets our tears…. We know this because God is the One who interpreted Jeremiah’s complaint as: “This is one of my children seeking me…I am going to meet with My child.”

So, is God offended when we complain? Apparently not, according to the example of Jeremiah in Lamentations. No wonder the hymn writer Thomas Chisholm extolled God with such confident words of assurance: “Great is Thy faithfulness, O God my Father, There is no shadow of turning with Thee; Thou changest not, Thy compassions they fail not; As Thou hast been Thou forever wilt be. Great is Thy faithfulness! Great is Thy faithfulness! Morning by morning new mercies I see; All I have needed Thy hand hath provided-Great is Thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me!”

Paul



[1] All Bible quotations are from the NASB.

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