Whining or Dining
By Audrey Stallsmith
Hannah Whithall Smith once pointed out, in her sweet Victorian way, that all complaining is complaint against God. He, after all, is the One in charge. And, although he doesn't cause the bad things that happen to us, He can either allow or not allow them.
That rather takes all the fun out of kvetching about leftovers for lunch again! After all, even the surliest of us have a hard time finding fault with Someone who has died for us. So we tend to direct our irritability toward each other instead. But, deep down, we know that our dissatisfaction isn't really about the socks left on the floor or the toothpaste all over the sink.
So we can conclude that Smith's point is actually a steely, "Take it up with the One in charge, and stop taking it out on everybody else. If His dying for you isn't enough, then you are obviously way too difficult to please."
This all reminds me of a gritty western we recently watched. Called Broken Trail, it concerns an old man named Prentice, who inherits his sister's ranch because she didn't believe her son Tom was up to the responsibility. So Prentice goes to find his fortyish nephew, who is still a cowhand, and proposes that they herd several hundred mustangs from Oregon to Wyoming.
The money they could make, he points out, might free Tom from his virtual slavery--and allow him to be his own boss instead. What shortly becomes obvious, however, is that Prentice is actually just trying to make a man out of his nephew. Every time, some difficult responsibility comes up, Tom is called on to handle it.
He begins looking more and more harassed as the movie proceeds. The poor guy obviously can't understand why he has to do all of the hard stuff. But, since his uncle is the guy in charge, Tom doesn't have much choice except to follow orders. And there are plenty of difficult moments after they are called on to protect five Chinese girls who had been sold into prostitution.
It's Tom who has to rescue one of the girls from her rapist--and hang the rapist. It is also he who has to sit up with the youngest girl while she is dying.
What Tom doesn't know is that his uncle actually sold the ranch to fund the trip. So the old man is, in a sense, staking everything on his nephew. And you can see that Tom is close to rebellion when his uncle decides that the more difficult mountainous path to their destination is actually the safest one.
When we too are complaining every step of the way, we obviously don't understand that the most difficult path is often the safest one. Difficulty, after all, is what keeps us closest to God. And what makes us more caring empathetic people. If we had everything our own way, we'd become the most spoiled and self-centered creatures out there. And wind up in hell.
God too often gets nothing but complaints when He tries to make something out of us. First, the Israelites never stopped carping after they left slavery in Egypt. And now us Christians also tend to forget the chains from which we were freed.
Way back in those prehistoric days when I was attending college, Keith Green came out with a humorous but cutting song called "So You Wanna Go Back to Egypt." Its lyrics included the following:
Well there's nothing to do but travel, and we sure travel a lot.
'Cause it's hard to keep your feet from moving when the sand gets so hot.
And in the morning it's manna hotcakes. We snack on manna all day.
And they sure had a winner last night for dinner, flaming manna soufflé.
Instead of picking at our manna and complaining, maybe we should trust God enough to believe that He knows what will nourish us. Even when it tastes bitter.
As in real life, not everything goes well in this movie. The men lose a couple of the girls (to spotted fever and suicide) and pick up a few more hangers-on along the way. Not to mention the very nasty types who are after them to retrieve the girls. And poor Tom is even forced to question his uncle's morality, when Prentice abruptly insists on picking a fight with two strangers. (The old man had actually recognized the two, as notorious types who had been infecting the Indians with smallpox.)
Though often baffled and angry, Tom learns to trust that Prentice knows what he's doing. Just as we are going to have to trust that God is good, even when things sometimes don't look that way. And, when forced to take responsibility, Tom does become responsible. When he literally has to save everyone in the end, he grabs his rifle and goes to work with a certain brusque matter-of-factness.
Although not rated, due to its being a miniseries, this was a pretty brutal movie. So I doubt it was meant to be Christian allegory! But there is one point when Tom, looking up at the stars, says something to the effect that God must be very disappointed with us all down here. But Prentice contradicts him and says he thinks God must actually be pleased.
Prentice believes in his nephew's potential despite that nephew's faults. So perhaps he realizes that God, who staked everything on the idea that we are worth saving, is glad we are along for the ride too. And will do His best for us, though at times it might look like the worst.