For the week of May 29, 2010 / 16 Sivan 5770
Torah: Bemidbar / Numbers 8:1-12:16
Haftarah: Zechariah 2:14-4:7

Good Complaining

I am not able to carry all this people alone; the burden is too heavy for me. If you will treat me like this, kill me at once, if I find favor in your sight, that I may not see my wretchedness. (Bemidbar / Numbers 11:14,15; ESV)

The chapter in which these verses appear begins like this:

And the people 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 (Bemidbar / Numbers 11:1; ESV).

This is but one example of Israel complaining about their hardships during their years of living in the wilderness. Several times we read of their grumbling and God's punishing them in response. One would get the impression from these incidents that complaining is bad. God doesn't like it; so we shouldn't do it.

The problem with this conclusion, however, is that it doesn't seem to be consistent with the earlier verses we read. In that case, Moses is complaining to God that what he believed God expected of him was more than he could handle. His complaint is pretty intense. He even asks God to kill him rather than let him continue in his situation. In both these cases the complainers had enough of the challenges they were facing. Whether or not they could actually handle their situations or whether or not God would give them special ability to do so didn't matter to them. Enough was enough as far as they were concerned.

Yet unlike the people who were punished for complaining, God responds favorably to Moses and alleviates his unbearable burden. The difference in Moses' case has to do with to whom the complaining was directed. Moses complained to God. The people just complained among themselves. The people simply vented their frustration and fueled discontent among themselves. Moses' complaint engaged the only one who could truly help him with his problem. There is nothing wrong with bringing a reasonable complaint to those who truly have the authority and power to address your situation. But when they are unable or unwilling to alleviate the situation, what are we to do? Does God expect us to just suck it up and quietly endure every negative situation?

The writers of the Psalms didn't think so. A large proportion of the Psalms are complaints. They were not just "singing' the blues", but rather they believed that God heard their complaints and expected him to do something in response.

When we face challenges and hardships, God is not expecting us to suffer in silence. As our Heavenly Father, he longs for us to come to him with our troubles, with our fears, even with our doubts. For only he is able to help us.

As we read in one of the New Covenant letters:

Don't worry about anything; on the contrary, make your requests known to God by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving. Then God's shalom, passing all understanding, will keep your hearts and minds safe in union with the Messiah Yeshua (Philippians 4:6,7; Complete Jewish Bible).

This doesn't say "Stop worrying and keep your problems to yourself." Rather, instead of worrying we should come to God with what worries us. As we do, we will experience his shalom, his peace.

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