Is it Ever Okay to Complain to God?

After Sunday's message on Exodus 16-17, Grace for the Grumbler, one of the repeated questions I heard was related to this idea, "Is it ever okay to complain to God?" The people of Israel were in quite a desperate situation facing hunger and thirst and attack. We all face desperate situations as well where we cry out to God. How should we respond? Where do we cross of the line from crying out to God into grumbling? And how can we even know the difference?

In Exodus 16-17 the people's grumbling was marked by:

  • Forgetting (Psalm 106:13)
  • Despairing (Exodus 16:3)
  • Demanding (Exodus 17:2)
  • Blaming (Exodus 16:3; 17:3)
  • Exaggerating (Exodus 16:3)
  • Judging (Exodus 17:5-7)

In a nut shell, Israel's grumbling was marked with many forms of bad fruit that showed they were turning away from God rather than to him. In contrast to this, we see several places in the Psalms where a complaint is made, but the Psalmist remains Godward in his response. In Psalm 55, David complained to the LORD,

"Give ear to my prayer, O God, and hide not yourself from my plea for mercy! Attend to me, and answer me; I am restless in my complaint and I moan" (Psalm 55:1-2).

David had a real complaint. But Psalm 55 shows us the good fruit of his complaint:

  • Appeal (Psalm 55:1)
  • Honestly Afraid (Psalm 55:4-8)
  • Justice (Psalm 55:9-15)
  • Faith in God's Deliverance (Psalm 55:16)
  • Faith that God Hears (Psalm 55:17)
  • Remembrance of God's Past Acts of Salvation (Psalm 55:18-19)
  • Invitation for Others to Trust God (Psalm 55:22-23)

David's complaint stands in stark contrast to Israel's grumbling. So is it ever okay to complain to God? Yes. But let it be because we are drawing near to him, trusting in him, remembering his faithfulness and his goodness and his covenant love. To the degree that we've forgotten this, our complaint is not righteous and we need to repent. God is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness! (1 John 1:9). Christ's sacrifice on the cross was sufficient to save and sanctify grumblers.

So to refrain from grumbling doesn't mean we act like nothing is wrong or that we're indifferent to relief. We're desperate for God's help with our kids. We're fearful that we will run out of money. We're afraid the sickness will be worse, not better. We're oppressed by someone that is trying to squash our faith in God. We can cry out to God, honest about where we are and the temptations we face. God hears our complaints.

And the flip side to this is that not all "being honest with God" is righteous. To the degree that we look more like Israel in the wilderness than David, we need the grace of God in Christ to help us, to turn from our sin and to trust in the God of our salvation. And the good news is that the Holy Spirit is at work in our lives changing us, making us more like Christ!