Why does it really matter if I grumble instead of lament? Is there really a big difference between saying, “We’re going to die out here!” And, “Lord, I’m afraid we are going to die out here, deliver us!”
And it’s all about the state of the heart. This isn’t simply about making sure we say the right words in the right way. Lament is not a formula. Neither is grumbling really. They are both expressions of the heart. One is a heart that is hurt and wounded and yet trusting in the Lord. The other is a heart that is hurt and wounded and refusing to be humble under His mighty hand. The biggest issue in the heart of the grumbler is a lack of trust in Jesus.
All of this is on full display in John 6. I find it interesting how connected John 6 is to the other grumbling narratives in the Old Testament. Here Jesus identifies himself as the manna in the wilderness. To use the pointed words of Russell Moore, the test in the wilderness is whether they wanted to be fed or fathered. The first grumblers chose food over Sabbath rest. The same takes place in John 6, they’d rather be fed than fathered.
Secondly, the first generation of grumblers could not trust in the sovereignty of God. This is true of God’s protection and plan in the wilderness wanderings and in the leaders he set over them. The generation of grumblers in Jesus’ day have the same spirit. Just as in Korah’s rebellion the religious leaders cannot fathom that Mary and Joseph’s boy could be the I AM. They cannot accept that He would be the one to rule over them. And so they grumble.
So they respond with a self-protecting dodge. “These are hard saying, who can accept them.” But they aren’t difficult sayings intellectually. This is not a problem of understanding it is a problem of following. It is not information they lack. It is a heart willing to obey. They do not actually want to follow Jesus and so they resort to grumbling against him. Perhaps, they must think to themselves, if they can grumble enough they will tear him down to size and be freed from the demand He has upon their lives.
This is why grumbling and lament matters. They are declarations of the bent of our heart. So, how can we lament and still be obedient to the Scriptures about joy, thanksgiving, and trust?
Because in lament we are proclaiming the reality of the situation, we are expressing how we feel about the situation (painful and disoriented as those feelings might be) and we are saying along with Habakkuk, “yet will I trust in you”. This is what praise and trust and faith is; namely, seeing things as they actually are and trusting in the character of God. It’s a belief that perhaps our eyes and our limited perspective is deceiving us. It refuses to question the way that God is ordering His world and at the same time refusing to believe that it doesn’t actually hurt. It’s fully human with eyes fixed on the Lord.
I pray this has been a helpful little series on learning the language of lament. There is much more to be said. I’m working on outlining and writing a book on grumbling and lament. We’ll see if I can get a publisher to bite…
Photo source: Geoff Box