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Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Girly Sins, Part 2 of 4


When I think of the Bible’s stance on complaining, the verse that comes to mind is Philippians 2:14, which says in the NIV, “Do everything without complaining or arguing.”  But it turns out that often, when the Bible uses the word “complaint” it is not condemnatory.  Job’s complaint is just.  The psalmist moans in his anguish and is shown mercy.  But I think of Philippians because that is the verse I make my children memorize.  Because I am just so annoyed by their complaining.  And the reason I am annoyed is that I don’t think their complaints are justified. 

Well, it turns out that God doesn’t enjoy the unjustified kind, either.  This one time, the Israelites “complained in the hearing of the Lord about their misfortunes, and when the Lord heard it, his anger was kindled, and the fire of the Lord burned among them and consumed some outlying parts of the camp” (Numbers 11:1).  Harsh.  Want to know why? 

Well, when Songbird complains about the dinner I serve, I feel affronted because I’d prefer adulation.  “Oh, magnanimous mother,” she would exclaim, “From the toil of your hands such succulent fare! My stomach delights!” 

That has never happened.  More often I get, “But I wanted mac and cheese.”  Which hasn’t even the musicality of old English.

How much worse the offense when we are ungrateful towards God, who is actually deserving of adulation.  God wants us to cry out to him as the bearer of our burdens, the way Job does.  But he doesn’t need our chastisement for the cruddy way he’s arranged things, as if he made some mistakes.  That kind of complaining, the Philippians kind, says that I know better than God.  That I deserve better.  That’s the kind of prideful effrontery that kindles camp-consuming anger.

I’m really pretty myopic when it comes to my situation.  My perspective is all from the ground, in the moment.  If I learn my place, so to speak, not only can I trust God more and complain less, even about the most inscrutable of his plans, but I can also make some headway on that other kind of complaining, the kind that is, sadly, the female province.

We complain to, and about each other, our husbands, our kids, our jobs, our bosses, our husbands, our mothers, the weather, and our husbands.  I have thought of enacting a new policy: when I hear a woman trashing her husband to another woman, or worse, to her kids, I will smack her upside the head with my purse.  (There are some legal bugs to work out. This policy is still under consideration.  And my purse is quite small.)  But seriously.  No matter how much Cookie does for me, my mind will still dwell on the things he’s neglected.  We are self-centered, and we will always notice the offenses against us even as we excuse or ignore those we cause.  So unlike Job, we are usually not justified before God when we do this kind of complaining.  The solution is uncomplicated.  Wait for it…

Stop Complaining.

I think there’s only one way to do this and that’s to get to know Christ better.  When we do that, we increasingly view ourselves in (unflattering) comparison.  And from that perspective, we feel less entitled, less self-righteous, and more compassionate.  Instead of feeling indignant about the overflowing trashcan, I can be excited to bless Cookie by taking it out first.  And as a bonus, no one will burn my camp or hit me with a purse.


  1. I enjoyed reading this post! Thank you for sharing your thoughts.

  2. A few words from an authenticated Gentleman of Leisure. I have no interest in becoming a bee in your bonnet. Rather I wish to remark on a few things that came to mind (all waxing philosophical)while perusing your posts, which I am glad to have found after a year of scouring the internet using increasingly obscene key words in order to find.

    Perhaps sin is not the same kind of thing as lacking virtue. Sin may be a posture, before God, the eradication of which is faith; belief. So the dialectic, in this case is sin/faith, not sin/virtue. (This thought is thoroughly plagiarized from something Soren Kierkegaard wrote in "The Sickness Unto Death")

    Perhaps at the core of complaint is expectation. Our complaints reveal our shattered expectations. Expectation is something like private demands one makes on God, the world, and others. The communication of such demands often has no causal power. However, we carry them around like a sack of rotting limbs that we'd attach to whatever is willing to embody them. Expectation is a tricky problem. Can love exist, for instance, without such demands? Surely not all expectations are unreasonable. And yet expectation often has a profoundly dehumanizing and delegitimizing effect on whatever it is cast upon. We make whole people, whole worlds, whole gods out of our expectations. A tricky problem indeed.

    Some books: I and Thou by Martin Buber, The Peaceable Kingdom by Stanley Hauerwas.

    I look forward to read more of your posts.

  3. Thanks Brandon! Thought provoking, indeed...
    I don't know if I'd say faith eradicates sin (as a posture before God), so much as that God enables both faith and the eradication of the sinful state.
    True that expectations set us up for a spirit of discontentment! If love were predicated on such, though, it would be a thing received, not a thing done.
    And Tet hates bees, but I'm ok with them :)

  4. Well said! on both counts. You're probably more correct in your phrasing of the first case. I have a special philosophical interest in expectation so I can't say much regarding the second case, here.