The Biggest Show in the Country
Stephen Nolan often boasts about being the biggest show in the country. The figures I came across suggested he has almost 140,000 listeners a week. He has over 110,000 followers on twitter. Both he and his show are hugely popular. Why? I would argue because he loves complaining, and better still offers a platform for others to complain too.
Complaining is something we all love doing. It somehow brings a little satisfaction to ‘blow off some steam.’ However, as Christians it is something that we (on the whole) tend to try to avoid. Well, in public at least. We heed the warnings in Scripture about complaining and grumbling, such as 1 Corinthians 10:10. Therefore we come to see complaining as a mark of Christian immaturity, and hence unbecoming. But as James writes, on another (but related) topic, this should not be brothers and sisters (3:10).
In the man known as Habakkuk the prophet we find a complaining believer. The brief book bearing his name is primarily understood as a lament, or in modern everyday language a complaint. There are three elements to this complaint which mark it as different from phoning the Nolan show for a good ol’ gripe!
Confession of Faith
At a number of junctures in his dialogue with Yahweh Habakkuk reaffirms his faith, trust and hope in him. There is a confession of faith peppered throughout this complaint. For example, Habakkuk raises the questions ‘Why are you watching your people reject your law and justice? Why are you doing nothing?’ (1:2-4). Yahweh offers the answer ‘I’m not; the nasty Babylonians are coming to inflict punishment on the disobedient’ (1:5-11). To this shocking answer Habakkuk confesses ‘Are you not from everlasting, O LORD my God, my Holy One? We shall not die.’ (1:12).
If we are to be complaining Christians in the truly biblical sense, we must pepper our complaints with confessions of faith in our God. In reading Habakkuk it is noticeable that Yahweh does not rebuke Habakkuk for questioning, he simply answers those questions (although not exactly to Habakkuk’s liking). Why wasn’t he rebuked? Surely it is because he complained in a God honouring way. How so? By confessing his continuing faith in Yahweh despite his questions.
Honesty through Questions
As alluded to above, Habakkuk was justified in raising his questions – indeed encouraged by the fact that Yahweh gave an answer. To be a complaint we must complain. The world that we live in is broken, sinful, dark and continually celebrating that fact. Habakkuk brutally asks Yahweh, ‘Why do you idly look at wrong? Why do you idly look at traitors and remain silent when the wicked swallows up the man more righteous than he?’ (1:3, 13).
One commentator writes, Habakkuk ‘screamed out at God’s silence and shouted accusations at God, seeking to understand what appeared to be absolute injustice in a universe faith said stood under the rule of a sovereign, just God.’ (Bailey, NAC: Habakkuk, 1998, pg. 277).
To complain as a Christian we must be openly honest in questioning our God. He is big enough to hear our questions, but he also knows them before we ask them and so we should not hold them back from him, pretending our thoughts are unseen. God seeks dialogue with his children, let us be honest in that dialogue.
Concluding in Praise
This is the primary difference between complaining as a Christian and simply complaining or grumbling in a sinful manner. The complaining Christian must see his complain conclude in praise. After being told by Yahweh that his very own people will be devastated and exiled by an evil and wicked nation, Habakkuk concludes:
Yet I will rejoice in the LORD;
I will take joy in the God of my salvation.
God, the LORD, is my strength;
He makes my feet like the deer’s;
He makes me tread on my high places. (3:18-19)
Our complaints need to end in praise to God; otherwise we have not employed the genre of complaint (lament) in a holy way. Complaint is a gift of God to allow us an avenue to consider deeply, and then express, our confusion at the state of a world under the control of a sovereign God. However, it only works to edify us if it concludes in praise!
The Complaining Christ
We may even observe this manner of dialogue with God as we read of Jesus on the cross. In Matthew 27:46 Jesus raises the complaint ‘My God, My god, why have you forsaken me?’ Many commentators argue that this brief quotation from Psalm 22 would have brought to mind the whole of Psalm 22. Throughout this Psalm, which opens with those words, we read ‘Yet you are holy, enthroned on the praises of Israel…O you my help…kingship belongs to the LORD and he rules over the nations’ (Ps. 22:3, 19, 28). There was faith, hope and trust in those words uttered by Jesus. Faith, hope and trust that God would vindicate him. As Psalm 22 says, ‘The afflicted shall eat and be satisfied; those who seek him shall praise the LORD! May your hearts live forever!’ (v. 26). This was realised through the resurrection and ascension of Jesus.
If we are to be complaining Christians we must follow the example of our Saviour, find strength to offer praise to God in difficulties and confess our faith, hope and trust that God will one day vindicate us too.