What is the first thing that comes to your mind when you hear the word “complaint”? If you’ve been a Christian for any length of time, I hazard a guess that it is not positive. Complaining is rarely considered a Christian virtue. In fact, Christians are specifically told not to complain (Philippians 2:14–15; 1 Peter 4:9). God rebuked and judged his people for complaining (Numbers 14:26–30). Complaining in Scripture is frequently evidence that the complainer doubts God’s goodness, power, or sufficiency.
But the Bible also draws our attention to another form of complaining, which we rarely highlight. There is a form of faithful complaint. David highlights this in Psalm 142: “With my voice I cry out to the LORD; with my voice I plead for mercy to the LORD. I pour out my complaint before him; I tell my trouble before him” (vv. 1–2). But what does faithful complaint look like? This psalm highlights at least five realities of faithful complaint.
First, God wants us to complain to him. David, first and foremost, poured out his complaint before God. And observe that he did so under inspiration. This was a Spirit-inspired complaint, poured out to God, about his adverse circumstances. He nowhere accused God of wrongdoing, but he nevertheless complained that he found his circumstances to be unjust and almost too oppressive to bear. God invites us to bring our complaints to him. Far from thinking that complaining, in and of itself, is blasphemous, this psalm invites us to bring our complaints to God in prayer.
Second, God wants us to complain privately to him. The heading of the psalm attributes it to David. Throughout the psalm, David writes in the singular: “I,” “me,” and “my.” This was his personal complaint about his personal circumstances. When life made no sense, he took his complaint directly to God in prayer.
Third, God wants us to complain corporately to him. While David wrote this psalm about his personal circumstances, he wrote it, according to the heading, as “a Maskil.” A “Maskil” was a musical or liturgical term. In other words, while David wrote this as a personal complaint, he intended for it to be used corporately. Likely, the men who were with him in the cave used it as an expression of corporate worship to God.
There is a place in the Christian life and church for corporate lament. To pray corporately about brokenness in the world and pain in the community can be a deeply worshipful experience. Such prayers express empathy for and unity with those who suffer. David’s personal suffering gave rise to Psalm 142, but his companions in the cave entered into his suffering with him by praying this corporately.
Fourth, God wants us to complain realistically to him. By this, I mean that lament—private and corporate—highlights the reality of life in a broken world. The inspired psalms of lament show us how to live realistically in a sin-cursed world. They help us to realise that, despite what certain false teachers tell us, we cannot go through life expecting only health, wealth, and prosperity. They help us to realise that we will have tribulation in this world (John 16:33).
Fifth, God wants us to complain hopefully to him. Look how David concluded this psalm: “Bring me out of prison, that I may give thanks to your name! The righteous will surround me, for you will deal bountifully with me” (v. 7). He prayed hopefully because he believed that brokenness would not win the day. Things would not always be like they were. He believed that God’s promises of eternal joy were sure to come to pass, and the community of the righteous helped his hope in this way. We likewise pray with hope because, even as we face tribulation in the world, we take heart that Christ has overcome the world (John 16:33).
As you go about your day, remember the lessons that Psalm 142 have for us about faithful complaint. Pour out your complaint before God in private and with others. Do so realistically, and do so hopefully, with faith in the one who has overcome the world.