Have you ever complained to God? Did you feel guilty for doing so? For some people, especially those who profess to be followers of Jesus, the thought of complaining to God is blasphemous. After all, good Christians are supposed to pray and trust God. Trust His sovereignty, see our struggles as His will as He continues to work out His purposes in our lives. There is some truth to that. We serve a God who reveals Himself as all-knowing (omniscient), all-powerful (almighty), and who emphatically declares, “I am the first, and I am the last; and beside me there is no God” (Isaiah 44:6, KJV). Someone that powerful ought to be trusted. Sometimes, however, it is not that easy.
These thoughts and others came to mind as I re-read parts of Dave Shives’ excellent book NIGHT SHIFT: God Works in the Dark Hours of Life, a book written “for Christians who perceive that God has lost track of them in the darkness.” Shive writes, “Perhaps He is distracted, confused, or indifferent to their plight as they bumble about on the night shift. . . . Puzzled by contradictions between their hopeful expectations and the reality of their Christian experience, they are in the dark, seemingly forgotten by God” (p. 25). The night shift, those seasons of life when it seems and feels like we are alone, are not that unusual. Even Jesus had a moment when He cried out on the cross, “My God, my God why have you forsaken me?” as recorded in Matthew 27:46, words first spoken by the psalmist as he wrestled with the silence of God (Psalm 22:1). Yes, there are times when complaining seems permissible.
In a portion of the book in which I noted as “profound” in the margin (p. 80), the author wrote that as he reflected on Psalm 40, he “was astonished to discover that more than 15 percent of the content of the Psalms can be construed as complaints. . . . a rather high percentage for a section of the Bible we generally view as emphasizing praise and worship.” He continued, “Biblical worship is most glorifying to God and meaningful to us when it affirms the authenticity of our hardship and extols the magnificence of our Saviour, who ”was despised and forsaken of men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief’ (Isaiah 53:3).” If God is acquainted with grief, including ours, why then are we so reluctant to talk to Him about it? Perhaps, as Shive noted, “We don’t sing about the darkness and about God forgetting us because it doesn’t suit our theology, our emotions, or our preferences” (p. 81).
It is true that we are not comfortable talking to God as the psalmist did in Psalm 40. Yet there is something powerfully liberating about having honest conversations with God that reflect how we truly feel. What good of a relationship is it if we cannot bare our souls? If we always have to pretend we live on mountain tops with no idea of what being in a valley looks and fees like? I agree with Shive that “if our worship is to be authentic biblical adoration, it should include complaint and honest dialogue with God” (p. 81). Our brokenness, “a priceless commodity in the economy of God, is the accepted legal tender of the night shift” (p. 78). In fact, the psalmist discovered that the Lord “inclined unto me, and heard my cry” (Psalm 40:1). In other words, God is “OK” with our honest complaints and He is not turned off by it. As a valley walker, that encourages me. It should encourage you too.