Warning: Complaining is hazardous to your health. Despite it not being included among the notorious ‘seven deadly sins’, the unambiguous teaching of Scripture is – if it’s not checked, complaining can kill you.
If you’re not convinced, I wish to direct you to the Levite tribal leader Korah and his entire family for their insights. Tragically, you won’t find them. While griping about Moses’ and Aaron’s misguided leadership was fresh on their lips, ‘the earth opened its mouth and swallowed them’ (Numbers 16:32).
If Rip Van Winkle was a Singaporean who fell asleep 20 years ago and awoke last week, the thing that may strike him more than mask-wearing is that peoples’ tone has changed. How is it that being finicky and crotchety has become normalised?
Paul was clear-eyed about the dangers of verbalising one’s displeasure or frustration. In 1 Corinthians 10, he cites three Old Testament events specifically recorded as dire warnings to us.
While the mention of unrestrained acts of sexual perversion and the worship of foreign and false gods is not surprising, his final example seems out of sync. He writes, ‘Nor complain, as some of them also complained, and were destroyed by the destroyer’ (vs 10).
Ouch! Does that seem excessive to you? If your answer is yes, you may be treading in treacherous waters. You’re most likely unperturbed by a bit of bellyaching. A few blasts of criticism here or bluster there has probably ceased to prick your conscience. Perhaps you’re so surrounded by it that you fail to realise you may be dancing with the devil.
Beloved, the descent into sin typically follows the slippery slope highlighted in James 1:14-15. People don’t generally wake up one morning and say, “I think I’ll commit adultery today.” We’re drawn, enticed, lured. One tiny compromise leads to another. Standards are lowered so incrementally we hardly even notice – like the proverbial frog in the pot of boiling water.
We lose our sensitivity to things that once disturbed us. The wineskin of our hearts slowly hardens and cracks. Unchecked lips give way to becoming a disgruntled person, germinating into someone perpetually offended. Words morph into attitudes which culminate into actions.
The Greek word for ‘complain’ (gongyzo) describes a cooing pigeon. Like the mourning dove, it’s a low-volume whoo-whoo of a voice, not a screech. Hence our English word ‘murmur’ is derived not from a harsh, discordant sound, but a murrr-murrr, a repetitive and easily-disregarded, below-the-surface hum.
Another common Hebrew word for ‘complain’ is ‘to lodge or remain’. In other words, yammering about your circumstances is like hammering stakes into the soil of pessimism, negativity, and a cynical spirit.
Whenever I need a reality check about my manner, I think of Sister Zhu. A single mom jailed with her son, Moses, for more than 20 years for her faith, she’s one of most contented and life-giving people I ever met.
The most common phrase upon her lips, blissfully-proclaimed in all circumstances good or bad, is etched into my memory. I ‘see’ her shining countenance even now as she raises another, “Thank God!”
She embodies the timeless declaration of David the beloved psalmist when he penned, “I will bless the Lord at all times; His praise (not fussing) shall continually be in my mouth” (Psalm 34:1).
In closing, consider Moses’ rebuke of the Children of Israel’s whining as they faced monotony and uncertainty in the wilderness, “Your complaints are not against us, but against the Lord.” Exodus 16:8
Imagine how shocked they must have been to learn that God, not Moses and Aaron, was the One to whom their bickering was directed.
As the Good News Translation frames this familiar proverb, ‘Be careful what you say and protect your life. A careless talker destroys himself.’ Proverbs 13:3 (Good News Translation)