We might as well admit we often pull rank when it comes to addressing our sin. Even when we know something is flat-out wrong, we can find a way to justify it…and then go on to sleep like babies. Of course we shouldn’t lie…but it’s such a small thing…doesn’t really matter, does it? Of course we shouldn’t steal…but who’s gonna miss it? Of course we shouldn’t break our word…but nobody’s perfect, right? I mean it’s not like we are out there killing people. I know I’m not perfect…but I’m not as bad as others. I’ve done more than my fair share of bad things…but at least I didn’t do what he or she did! Only heaven knows how many times these kinds of thoughts have raced through the human minds throughout history. I would imagine my personal list of these types of thoughts would easily fill up a hard drive on a NASA computer. I don’t think I’m too far off when I say it’s a human thing…we all do it…and we’re good at it.
But what exactly is it we are good at? What are we guilty of when we go down this road? Perhaps the simplest explanation is we are over-stepping our bounds. Few Christians would argue that God’s Word is the final say in any discussion. But in those moments when we have committed sin and quickly dismiss it as unimportant or no big deal, we are actually setting ourselves above God…pulling rank. Our behavior often suggests He doesn’t have the final say on sin…we do. When we willfully do what He has told us not to do, we are making a statement. Yes, it might be a sin…but it’s okay when I do it. Our logic is very simple…we don’t see the “sin” as a big deal…in our eyes…so our filter allows it to pass through without raising a flag. In time, our filters cease to work and the Christian begins to think and act like the non-believers in the world. We evaluate the sin ourselves and then decide if it’s big or small, important or not, or worthy of our attention. In short, we make the call, not God. The consequences of these actions are obvious. God’s thoughts are set aside, our behavior is condoned, and His Word slides down the scale…with room at the top left only for ourselves.
We do this with sin in general. We always have. Countless examples may abound, but I would like to draw attention to one sin in particular. It’s an old sin…been around forever. Let’s call it “grumbling.” You might prefer words like complaining, belly-aching, or griping…but these are all words that describe one sin…and though we might not think it’s that big of an issue because of the commonality of it…the Bible says it’s not a little sin at all. I don’t think I’m wrong in assuming that most of us would not include this sin on the unofficial “Big Sin List.” The reason is simple…everybody does it…and in our estimation, there are worse things. See how that works? God said…but we spoke too…and we drowned out His voice.
Let’s take a look at God’s thoughts and see how they gel with our own. (Spoiler alert…this is gonna sting) You don’t have to be a scholar to remember the complaining Israelites of the OT. The first five books of the Bible tell us God did some incredible miracles to not only create a nation, but also deliver it. God had a master plan of leading Israel to the Promised Land. He simply asked them to trust Him. Miracle after miracle fell from Heaven…it seemed nothing could prevent Israel from waltzing right into the land flowing with milk and honey. The mighty Egyptians could not…and their formidable army ended up in the bottom of the Red Sea when they tried to drag the Israelites back to Egypt. In addition, the pesky Canaanites were no match for Israel’s God either. But we are told something did, in fact, impede the progress. The very sin we don’t take seriously…the grumbling hearts of the nation. The Bible paints an almost disturbing scene when Israel is forbidden to enter the Promised Land. Their lack of faith in God resulted in immense grumbling and complaining…and that led to quick judgement by God.
By definition in Hebrew, grumbling is a “growling” and a “whispered rebellion.” Perhaps if you’ve ever been chased or bitten by an angry dog, this definition might really get your attention. Growling against God…the very One who had created, loved, protected, and delivered Israel. The Israelites put on an eloquent display of humanity’s dark side that has survived to this very day. What’s more, the definition also includes the very ugly notion of distrust in God…declaring that what He has given us is not good enough. Again Israel’s example is hard to read. Numbers 14 tells of the actions of the nation after hearing the somewhat scary report from 10 of the 12 spies who had been sent gather intel about Canaan. Though Israel had been all but carried on angel’s wings by God Himself, their faith failed…God was great…but He wasn’t big enough to help with the “giants” in the land. Joshua and Caleb thought differently. In the end, the Israelites grumbled against Moses and Aaron. They offered up such pitiful phrases like they wish they had died back in Egypt…or in the wilderness…Yeah…they said that. In a very short amount of time, the great miracles of the Exodus had been tossed into the Recycle Bin. Egypt’s gods had been humiliated. Pharaoh’s son, the next deity in waiting, had died. The Red Sea parted for Israel and the mighty Egyptian army destroyed. Manna fell from heaven. Later, quail fell to the ground. Water came from a rock. Ultimately, they suggested going back to Egypt and getting a new leader. What a bunch! The great miracles were no match for the grumblings of the human heart.
Picking on Israel’s failures here is far too easy. We all stand ready to preach a sermon or two to this ragtag bunch of complainers every time this story is told. I would caution us all to be careful before we begin preaching. Israel needed to do some serious repenting, to be sure…but I think it’s even worse that we are guilty of the same sin. The hypocrite in all of us loves to chastise Israel…plainly stating how they should have responded and what they should have done…all with a smug of unmistakable self-righteousness. The sad part is that is was this pitiful grumbling and lack of trust that kept a whole generation of folks from entering the Promised Land. Only Joshua and Caleb, the non-grumbling, faithful, and unafraid duo would be allowed to enter the land. Forty years of wandering around were on the horizon and a whole ton of funerals…for the grumblers.
Ouch, right? My OT professor from Bible College described Numbers 14 as “God had heard enough.” God hates this sin in His people. He always has. The story is simple enough for the kids in the nursery to understand…and yet it’s emphasis is all but ignored in today’s world…and it’s ignored because we don’t think it’s important. So we grumble, complain…rinse and repeat…all the while excusing the behavior because we have good intentions, we know what’s best, or we have decided God’s take is outdated.
Of course, I’m bringing all of this up for one simple reason-the year 2020 might go down in American history as one of the most grumbling years on record. It’s probably never been easier to grumble than it has over these past few months. The political divide has widened to a point it might never recover from. Racial tension has the universe walking on egg shells. A morally corrupt culture is now supported and endorsed by mainstream media…oh…and there’s a virus out there that has had us all standing on our heads. 14 day quarantines do little to lift the spirits. Working from home is ok…for a day or two…after that, you’re ready to jump in a lake. Wearing a mask to buy a candy bar is maddening…and sitting in a drive-thru line at a restaurant with locked doors will cause the kindest of saints to release the hounds. Changing the historic school and church schedules…mandating 6ft of social distance between the humans…Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s activities squelched…and a few million other things would try the patience of Job. It makes us all wanna grumble…and Lord knows I have. I don’t think I’m alone.
As we enter into 2021, we have some options laid out before us. For starters, we could continue to grumble and complain. Surely God would understand after all we’ve been through. Would it not be right of God to give us a “free pass” in light of our circumstances? I’m not so sure that’s a wise option…especially when we consider He didn’t give Israel one. In fact, it would seem that He heard every word of their complaints. Is it not safe to assume He’s heard every word of ours? A second option might be to just endure it and grumble privately. We could all harden our hearts and pretend to be ok…especially in public places like Walmart or church. If we’re good at it, we might even land an Oscar nod to celebrate our acting abilities!
Options 1 and 2 will be selected by many…I have no doubt. Those responses are natural and have been in play since the earliest of days. But there is a third option. Perhaps we could trust God through this difficult time. Maybe we could humble ourselves and repent of our grumbling and complaining. Maybe we could stop pretending we’re all just “fine.” Maybe we could get honest with the Lord and voice our fears and frustrations and renew ourselves to Him daily and walk by faith…the very thing He asked Israel to do…the very thing He has asked us to do. Church history is loaded with vast stretches of time that were much worse than what we are dealing with today. Plagues (pandemics) are not new. Neither is political divisiveness. Racial and social tensions have always been part of global culture. But God in His grace brought His church through it. I have to believe He can do it again. If I believe that…rather, if we really believe that…then there is hope…and grounds for faithfulness…even in the midst of the craziness.
Lord knows I have complained with the best of them in 2020. But today, I wanna stop. My God doesn’t want me to complain. He doesn’t want His people to complain. He wants us to trust Him…and follow Him. Ironically enough, Christians have committed to do that very thing. Maybe we need to consider whether folks around us are seeing committed Christians or are they hearing even more complaints? We look back at Israel’s behavior and marvel at how “they” could be so forgetful of God’s goodness and care. One day, years from now, history will reveal how the church responded to the issues we are currently facing. Will future generations shake their heads at our faithlessness…or will they see the church walking by faith and not by sight…leaning on the Savior…pressing forward…arm in arm…trusting God and His Word? I can’t answer that for you and or anyone else. But I can and must answer for myself. Truth is…we all have to. What say ye?
Thanks so much for taking time to read this. Blessings to you and your family.