Friday, June 30, 2006

In Praise of Whining

In his account of two weeks with American forces in Iraq, Nir Rosen tells of one raid:

The next night the troop departed the base at 0200, hoping to find those alleged Al Qaeda suspects who had not been home during the previous operation. Soldiers descended upon homes in a large compound, their boots trampling over mattresses in rooms the inhabitants did not enter with shoes on. Most of the wanted men were nowhere to be found, their women and children prevaricating about their locations. Some of their relatives were arrested instead. “That woman is annoying!” one young soldier complained about a mother’s desperate ululations as her son was taken from his house. “How do you think your mother would sound if they were taking you away?” a sergeant asked him.

The sergeant spoke wisely.

Whining and grumbling can certainly be wrong, and we hear all about that from Bible teachers, just as those who want to beat their kids know where to look it up, and those who want to slaughter people can find how they're supposed to do that too. But when the people murmured in God's hearing (although not to him) in Numbers 11, Moses spoke to God like this (Numbers 11:11-15):

Why have You been so hard on Your servant? And why have I not found favor in Your sight, that You have laid the burden of all this people on me? Was it I who conceived all this people? Was it I who brought them forth, that You should say to me, "Carry them in your bosom as a nurse carries a nursing infant," to the land which You did swear to their fathers? Where am I to get meat to give to all this people? For they weep before me saying, "Give us meat that we may eat!" I alone am not able to carry all this people, because it is too heavy for me. So if You will deal thus with me, kill me at once, if I have found favor in Your sight, and do not let me see my wretchedness."

What do you think? To my mind, this is a class act in whining. This man Moses knew how to whine to God, not in his hearing, and he got results.

Later on David knew this secret too. "All day long I will murmur and complain, and the Lord will hear my voice. He will redeem my soul in peace from the battle against me" (Psalm 55:17-18).

Consider too what the Bible means by the patience of Job. Job kept complaining, but to God, not about him. In the whole story, he's the only one who actually directs his words to God -sometimes very hostile words - and this was his righteousness.

David tells us some more about this patience in Psalm 40: "I waited patiently for the Lord, and He inclined to me, and heard my cry." For David, patience wasn't sitting there quietly. Patience was to keep on crying. So then Jesus, when telling us how to pray, gave us the parable of the unjust judge and the poor widow who got her justice by continually coming to him and saying, "Give me justice from my opponent." Her patience consisted of nagging him until she was on his last nerve, and that is how Jesus says we're to approach God.

Whining, one of those base things of this world by which God brings to nothing the high and the noble, and all their injustice. But as we learn in potty training, we need to learn to put it where it belongs. We need to take our complaints and whining about what God has done or not done to God, not to ourselves or someone else - just as we want people to bring their complaints about us to us, and not to other people instead.

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