Can Complaining to God Be a Sign of Intimacy with God?
Can we just go there and address the elephant in the room, admitting that many of us still feel unsettled and spiritually perplexed? Can we acknowledge that not one, not two, but several collective prayers didn’t just go unanswered, but were answered in the opposite direction of what we prayed for?
From the Supreme Court dismissing the one case that could have addressed the concerns of millions of Americans to a first-week-in-office signing of an executive order expanding abortion funding all over the globe, it’s not hard to feel like our efforts in intercession were for naught. Add in the false claims of a Trump second term predicted by prominent Christian prophets and we find ourselves trying to make sense of it all. While a few voices are addressing that fallout, there are still some well-intentioned believers who are feeling disillusioned in the wake of leveraging their faith and staking their reputations on the misinformation.
If I were to be completely honest, all of this together is ridiculously frustrating to me. I am appalled that my faith could appear misguided, hollow or “baseless” to unbelievers. I am discouraged that sometimes it seems like evil is winning, despite the fact that I fasted and prayed for different outcomes. I wanted to ask God “why” but found myself hesitant. Then I understood that He wanted me to ask.
Go Ahead, Ask Why
When it comes to negative emotions directed at God — especially those associated with perceptions of God turning a deaf ear to the cries of our hearts or allowing circumstances that make us feel vulnerable — many Christians grow uncomfortable, and even experience shame. To cope, we can find ourselves whitewashing over gray areas that expose the discrepancy between our profession of who God is and what He can do versus the reality of our experience. We shove these feelings down and lock them away because they don’t fit self-created stereotypes of what Christians look like.
It’s at this juncture the Christian is faced with one of three responses. The first two are common cop outs while the third, while seemingly confrontational, is by far the most relationally authentic. The first response is to blame God and walk away from Him. Give up on the hope that He would ever give a real answer to our why-based questions. This non-communicative course of action can lead to abandoning the faith.
The second response is to blame ourselves for God’s inactivity and focus on everything we’re not: not prayerful enough, not courageous enough, not faith-filled enough. This response leads to burnout, because, while we profess faith in God, we actually believe that it’s all up to us, which is essentially self-salvation.
The third response is to honestly complain to God. The prophet Habakkuk understood the genuine validity of taking his grievance straight to God. In fact, his book starts out with a complaint: “O Lord, how long shall I cry for help and you will not hear? Or cry to you ‘Violence!’ and you will not save? Why do you make me see iniquity, and why do you idly look at wrong?” (1:2-3). In verse 13, Habakkuk reaffirms to God who He know Him to be but still questions His actions: “You who are of purer eyes than to see evil and cannot look at wrong, why do you idly look at traitors and remain silent when the wicked swallows up the man more righteous than he?”
Not Afraid to Ask Why
Obviously, Habakkuk wasn’t afraid to ask “why” in the form of a complaint. Neither was Moses (Numbers 11:11), David (Psalm 10:1), Job (Job 3:11) or Jeremiah (Lamentations 5:20). These giants of the faith were uninhibited in leveling major complaints straight at God. They were anchored in a covenantal relationship to Him, and secure in the reciprocity of that relationship: they were not abandoning God and God was not abandoning them, even though it may have felt like that in the moment. Because they knew God — like a child knows his mother or husband knows his wife — they felt the freedom to bring their raw emotions to God without fear of rejection or retribution.
And they minced no words. Theirs was a visceral (however limited) response to God’s choices in allowing confounding circumstances to persist around them. Their boldness in complaining to God was a natural outflow of relational intimacy with God.
A 2008 study suggests that emotional expression, both positive and negative, “enhances intimacy and trust and received support both in the moment and in the long term.” We are most confident in filing a complaint with someone who we believe will hear us and possesses the authority to act for good on our behalf. This, in turn, strengthens the bond between us and the person addressing our complaint. We see them as an advocate, not an adversary.
The examples we glean from the Bible confirm this premise. When God’s children asked God “Why,” He did not respond with “because I said so.” He answered them. In the case of Habakkuk, God gave him a very clear and direct answer. The Lord said, “Look among the nations, and see; wonder and be astounded. For I am doing a work in your days that you would not believe if told” (Habakkuk 1:5).
Whoa … wait, what? Could it be that I’m just not privy to God’s master plan enough and I needed to just keep trusting? Could it be that even though I feel like I know God so well, that I will never understand His thoughts, motives, and reasons fully? Did He not say in Isaiah 55:8-9: “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways … For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts”?
This means God is God and I am not. Habakkuk once again understood this and responded with expectancy in the faithfulness of God’s character. “I will take my stand at my watchpost and station myself on the tower, and look out to what he will say to me, and what I will answer concerning my complaint” (Habakkuk 2:1).
I am following Habakkuk’s cue. I am standing. I am stationing myself. I am looking out to see what he will say to me about my complaint. He will say something. Just as He did for Habakkuk. He said the vision waits for the appointed time, that it will not lie, and if it seems slow, to wait for it (2:3). Then it was as if He spoke to me directly in the next verse, “But the righteous shall live by faith” (2:4).
There it was, and is, and is to come: the righteous shall live by faith. Even when the fig tree doesn’t blossom. Even when the fields yield no food (3:17). We can yet “rejoice in the Lord” and “take joy in the God of our salvation” (3:18). By faith, we know He’s listening. By faith, we know He has heard our complaint, even when none of the outcomes make sense. By faith, we know He knows us. And that changes everything.
Annemarie McLean is a four-girl mom, freelance writer, and co-founder of Brave & Beautiful, a ministry focused on challenging young women to live purpose-driven lives full of courage and character, while developing Christ-centered inner beauty. Annemarie holds a journalism degree from Oral Roberts University, with graduate work in organizational leadership at Palm Beach Atlantic University.