Saturday, May 24, 2014

A Complaining People

There's an interesting passage back in the Old Testament book of Numbers. What is sometimes missed is that it works as a commentary on human beings. It describes well the propensity we have for quick dissatisfaction and complaint. It seems that many (most?) of us just can't be happy for very long. Here's the passage:
33 Thus they set out from the mount of the Lord three days’ journey, with the ark of the covenant of the Lord journeying in front of them for the three days, to seek out a resting place for them.34 The cloud of the Lord was over them by day when they set out from the camp.35 Then it came about when the ark set out that Moses said, “Rise up, O Lord! And let Your enemies be scattered, And let those who hate You flee before You.”36 When it came to rest, he said, “Return, O Lord, To the myriad thousands of Israel.”1 Now the people became like those who complain of adversity in the hearing of the Lord; and when the Lord heard it, His anger was kindled, and the fire of the Lord burned among them and consumed some of the outskirts of the camp.2 The people therefore cried out to Moses, and Moses prayed to the Lord and the fire died out.3 So the name of that place was called Taberah, because the fire of the Lord burned among them.4 The rabble who were among them had greedy desires; and also the sons of Israel wept again and said, “Who will give us meat to eat?5 “We remember the fish which we used to eat free in Egypt, the cucumbers and the melons and the leeks and the onions and the garlic,6 but now our appetite is gone. There is nothing at all to look at except this manna.”Numbers 10:33–11:6 (NASB95)

Those people were three days into their journey. Three days. They complained. They were greedy. They got all caught up in "how things used to be." Now let's be fair. Was everything great? No. But they refused, or were unable to see the greater picture. God was leading them to the promised land. He was on their side, leading them, providing for them. He was their God and they were his people. But mundane things of life overwhelmed them, and their own little petty desires clouded their ability to see. Memories of the past morphed from hardship of slavery to a feast-table of fine foods.

A great many Christians are just like this. Christians, including leaders like preachers, elders, and educators, seem trapped into a viscious cycle of dissatisfaction with just about everything. The generations are at each other's throats with accusations that whatever generations one is not part of is to blame for all the failings and bad things happening to the church. Preachers lambast church members because they aren't living like they're supposed to live, doing what they're supposed to be doing, giving like they're supposed to be giving, but instead of acting like a shepherd-leader, gently instructing and guiding, they get fed up and quit. Or move. Church members throw tantrums because those in charge don't cater to their every whim (or whimper!). Leaders are accused of being stuck in the past, not caring for the flock, or just being irrelevant.

It is surely true that some of those complaints exactly right. But it  equally true that many of them are just people acting out the very human trait of dissatisfaction and grumpiness. I've known lots of Christian leaders. Not one of them was perfect, or knew how to sasisfy every complaining member. I've known lots of church members. Few of them were progressing in their spiritual growth that was exceptional. Most everyone drags their spiritual feet.

But we've entered a time when the game is played for high stakes. We're told by every expert around that the church is failing, it must change, it must do things this way or that way, it must change it's doctrinal stance on this issue or that, else nobody will ever pay attention again.  I have no doubt but that it wouldn't hurt us a bit to do some new thinking on lots of things. But I doubt that will be the answer to our problems. For just about the time we satisfy one bunch, another will rise up with new complaints. And nobody seems bold enough to ask, "Might the problem be with the complainers?" No, you do that and you get a fresh load of criticism and blame tossed your way.

If you've bothered to read this far, you're probably expecting me to offer an answer to the problem. Sorry. I have no answer, except to point us back to things that God has always taught us when things go wrong. I will leave it to the reader to discover where I found these things, but I promise every one of them is in your Bible. Here's how to make progress when things aren't great:
  • Stop complaining. You read that right. Just stop.
  • Quit thinking so highly of yourself. It's the first step toward trouble.
  • Love others. That means you do the loving of the others.
  • Learn tolerance. I don't mean the socio-political meaningless word popular today.
  • Be patient. Things seldom happen in a hurry.
  • Be more concerned about the health of your own faith than about that of others.
  • Encourage and build up people, and never shoot the wounded.
  • Live and practice what you expect of everyone else.
  • Treat others like you want them to treat you.
  • Don't try to outpuke buzzards (this one might be hard to find).
  • Make more peace than ruckus.
  • Never yell about what somebody else is or is not doing; you do it (or not) first.
  • If you can't see God's big picture, keep quite until you do.
  • Never confuse popular ideas or opinions with the Bible.
  • When things don't turn out like you think they should, return to the top of this list.

I believe two things about complainers. First, some people have legitimate things to complain about. If you don't believe this one, go read the Psalms. You'll find lots of complaints there. When finished, read Job. If that's not enough, write me, I'll suggest more.  Second, most complainers get on God's nerves. Everybody should think about that one before they start.