Why a Complainer’s Lot Is Not a Happy One
EXULTATION had turned to despair in just a few weeks. The initial jubilation of the Israelites over their newfound freedom from Egyptian bondage had degenerated into petty grumbling over food. During the second month after they had left Egypt, the disgruntled nation said they would prefer a slave’s lot to a difficult life in the wilderness. In the months that followed, this complaining spirit sapped their determination to obey Jehovah and ruined that generation’s prospects of entering the Promised Land.—Exodus 16:1-3; Numbers 14:26-30.
Complaining has, of course, never been limited to one generation or a single people. Who does not occasionally complain about work, food, weather, children, neighbors, or the cost of living? It seems that human imperfection lends itself to complaining.—Romans 5:12; James 3:2.
Why do we complain so readily? Perhaps we are feeling discouraged, disappointed, or sick. Complaining may be an outlet for our frustration, or it could be an indirect way of saying: “I would do the job better!” Sometimes complaints are fueled by personality clashes. Then again, there are genuine grievances.
Whatever the underlying cause, as the foregoing example of the Israelites shows, complaining can be destructive if it persists. A person could become a chronic complainer, even murmuring about Jehovah’s way of doing things. Why is that so dangerous? And how should legitimate complaints be properly handled?
If a grievance is not a serious one, the first question we should ask is, Can I overlook it in love? True, we may have a valid cause for complaint against someone, perhaps even a fellow believer. He may have treated us unkindly or unjustly. Nevertheless, will complaining to others about the unfair treatment improve matters? How does the Bible recommend that we react? Colossians 3:13 says: “Continue putting up with one another and forgiving one another freely if anyone has a cause for complaint against another. Even as Jehovah freely forgave you, so do you also.” So even when a complaint may be justified, the Scriptures recommend a forgiving attitude instead of a complaining spirit.—Matthew 18:21, 22.
What if the matter is too serious to overlook? There may be good reason for voicing a complaint. When a valid “cry of complaint” went up to Jehovah concerning Sodom and Gomorrah, he took steps to deal with the disgraceful situation in those decadent cities. (Genesis 18:20, 21) Another legitimate complaint arose soon after Pentecost 33 C.E. When food was distributed to needy widows, partiality was shown toward the Hebrew-speaking women. Understandably, this caused resentment among the Greek-speaking widows. Eventually, the complaint reached the ears of the apostles, and they quickly organized a team of responsible men to correct the problem.—Acts 6:1-6.
Appointed Christian elders today should likewise not delay in taking necessary steps when serious matters are brought to their attention. Proverbs 21:13 says: “As for anyone stopping up his ear from the complaining cry of the lowly one, he himself also will call and not be answered.” Rather than ignoring a legitimate complaint, elders should listen sympathetically. On the other hand, all of us can cooperate by directing serious complaints to the elders, instead of reciting them to everyone who will listen.
Nevertheless, most of us would frankly admit that there are times when human imperfection causes us to complain unnecessarily. A closer look at the behavior of the Israelites in the wilderness will help us to see the danger of allowing an occasional grumble to escalate into a complaining spirit.
God’s View of Complainers
The Israelites’ murmuring about food supplies reveals two inherent dangers in complaining. First, complaining is contagious. The account says that “the entire assembly of the sons of Israel began to murmur against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness.” (Exodus 16:2) Likely, a few began to complain about the shortage of food, and before long everybody was complaining.
Second, the complainer often exaggerates the problem. In this case, the Israelites asserted that they would be better off in Egypt, where they could eat as much bread and meat as they wished. They complained that they had been led into the wilderness only to die of hunger.—Exodus 16:3.
Was the situation of those Israelites really that critical? Possibly their food stocks were running low, but Jehovah had foreseen that problem, and in good time he provided the manna to satisfy their physical needs. Their exaggerated complaints betrayed a complete lack of trust in God. While in Egypt they had justifiably complained about the harsh conditions. (Exodus 2:23) But when Jehovah freed them from slavery, they started complaining about food. That was unwarranted murmuring. “Your murmurings are not against us, but against Jehovah,” Moses warned.—Exodus 16:8.
This complaining spirit of the Israelites manifested itself again and again. Within a year the manna became a cause of complaint. (Numbers 11:4-6) Soon thereafter a bad report from 10 of the 12 Israelite spies unleashed an outcry about the supposed dangers involved in the conquest of the Promised Land. The people went so far as to say: “If only we had died in the land of Egypt, or if only we had died in this wilderness!” (Numbers 14:2) What a gross lack of appreciation! Not surprisingly, Jehovah said to Moses: “How long will this people treat me without respect, and how long will they not put faith in me?” (Numbers 14:11) Those ungrateful complainers were condemned to wander in the wilderness for 40 years until that generation passed away.
The apostle Paul reminds us of this example. He warns fellow Christians never to be like those Israelites who became murmurers, only to perish in the wilderness. (1 Corinthians 10:10, 11) Clearly, unjustified murmuring and a spirit of complaint can undermine our faith and lead to Jehovah’s displeasure.
Yet, Jehovah is patient with his servants who may occasionally complain because of discouraging circumstances. When Elijah fled to Mount Horeb because of persecution by wicked Queen Jezebel, he was convinced that his work as a prophet had come to an end. He mistakenly assumed that he was the only worshiper of Jehovah remaining in the land. To strengthen Elijah’s faith, God first gave him a demonstration of His divine power. The prophet was then told that there were still 7,000 faithful servants of Jehovah in Israel and that there was much work for him to do. Consequently, Elijah forgot his complaints and went forward with renewed vigor. (1 Kings 19:4, 10-12, 15-18) As Christian elders exercise discernment, they can likewise speak consolingly to faithful ones, helping them to see their role in the outworking of God’s purpose.—1 Thessalonians 5:14.
Overcoming a Spirit of Complaint
How can a spirit of complaint be overcome? Well, those who are given proof about the harm tobacco does to the body have a powerful incentive to stop smoking. Similarly, understanding why a spirit of complaint is so detrimental can motivate us to break any habit of complaining.
What benefits result to those who overcome a complaining spirit? One important benefit enjoyed by those who avoid complaining is that they can view matters Scripturally and more objectively. A complainer rarely stops to think about a problem from Jehovah’s standpoint. The complaining Israelites forgot that Jehovah God had freed them from bondage and had miraculously parted the waters of the Red Sea for them. Their negative thinking blinded them to God’s power and robbed them of their joy. As a result, their confidence in Jehovah evaporated.
Furthermore, a person who can make an objective appraisal of his problems discerns when his own mistakes have been the root cause of his difficulties. He is much less likely to make the same error again. Jeremiah warned his fellow Israelites not to complain about the hardships they were experiencing after the destruction of Jerusalem. Their suffering was a direct result of their own sins, and that was something they needed to understand in order to repent and return to Jehovah. (Lamentations 3:39, 40) Similarly, the disciple Jude censured the “ungodly men” who rejected Jehovah’s direction and were chronic “complainers about their lot in life.”—Jude 3, 4, 16.
As wise King Solomon once observed, “a heart that is joyful does good as a curer, but a spirit that is stricken makes the bones dry.” (Proverbs 17:22) A complaining spirit drains us emotionally and takes away our joy. It reflects pessimism, not optimism. But those who learn to think and speak about ‘praiseworthy things’ have a joyful heart, which may even make them feel better.—Philippians 4:8.
Doubtless, our lives will be richer if we notice people’s virtues instead of their failings. We will be uplifted if we make the best of trying circumstances rather than grumble about our setbacks. Even trials can be a cause for joy if we view them as an opportunity to strengthen our faith and fortify our endurance.—James 1:2, 3.
It is also important to remember that when we murmur, we are not harming ourselves only. By constantly voicing complaints, we may well undermine the faith of others. The bad report of the ten Israelite spies caused the whole nation to view the conquest of the Promised Land as a hopeless venture. (Numbers 13:25–14:4) On another occasion, Moses became so downhearted because of the people’s incessant murmuring that he asked Jehovah to take away his life. (Numbers 11:4, 13-15) On the other hand, if we talk about matters in an upbuilding way, we may be able to strengthen the faith of others and contribute to their joy.—Acts 14:21, 22.
Although we may be tempted to complain about our workmates, our friends, our family, or even the congregation elders, Jehovah wants his people to “have intense love for one another.” Such love moves us to cover over the errors of others instead of highlighting their mistakes. (1 Peter 4:8) Thankfully, Jehovah remembers that we are mere dust and does not watch our errors. (Psalm 103:13, 14; 130:3) If all of us tried to imitate his example, undoubtedly we would complain a lot less.
When mankind is restored to perfection, no one will have cause to complain about his lot in life. Until that time comes, we need to resist the temptation to complain about others or about our own trying circumstances. To show that we trust in Jehovah and really love our fellow believers, let us “keep doing all things free from murmurings.” (Philippians 2:14) This will please Jehovah and will benefit us greatly. For our own welfare and that of others, then, let us not forget that a complainer’s lot is not a happy one.
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Even God’s miraculous provision of manna became a cause for complaint