When Lament Becomes Whining

Ok, the short answer is, “When it stops being lament,” but that doesn’t tell us a whole lot.  Perhaps we could approach it this way – when lament becomes selfish it is now whining.  But, then we’ll have to pin down a real good definition of “Selfish.”  So, let’s look for some Bible cases.

Let’s begin with whining – the quintessential case:

Then the whole congregation of the children of Israel complained against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness. And the children of Israel said to them, “Oh, that we had died by the hand of the LORD in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the pots of meat and when we ate bread to the full! For you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.” (Exodus 16:2-3 NKJV)

And again:

And the people spoke against God and against Moses: “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and our soul loathes this worthless bread [that would be the manna, JB].” (Numbers 21:5 NKJV)

No one will deny that the Israelites were out of line with these statements.  They reflect the following:

  1. Excessive focus on self
  2. Tunnel vision, seeing only what was happening at that very moment
  3. A failure to trust in God’s promises and appreciate His broad plan for them, in other words, a lack of faith

And now lament.  Consider this text, containing one of the most torn heart statements in the Old Testament, “…is any sorrow like my sorrow”:

Jerusalem has sinned gravely … Therefore her collapse was awesome; she had no comforter. O LORD, behold my affliction, for the enemy is exalted! The adversary has spread his hand over all her pleasant things; for she has seen the nations enter her sanctuary … Behold and see if there is any sorrow like my sorrow, which has been brought on me, which the LORD has inflicted in the day of His fierce anger. (Lamentations 1:8-12 NKJV)

Notice the difference in Jeremiah’s statement and the one by the Israelites.  In Lamentations (written as a lament over the destruction of the First Temple by the Babylonians in 586 B.C. [I don’t use B.C.E.]):

  1. The focus is on the loss of the central place of worship under the Law of Moses and the suffering of the citizens of Jerusalem
  2. Jeremiah acknowledged that today’s trouble had a context, namely, “Jerusalem has sinned gravely”
  3. In the fifth poem, chapter 5, there is a statement of faith that God remains in control and a plea for restoration

You, O LORD, remain forever; Your throne from generation to generation. …Turn us back to You, O LORD, and we will be restored; Renew our days as of old, (Lamentations 5:19-21 NKJV)

In the final analysis, I think it comes down to our heart – and only God can read that.  It is the intent of these thoughts, not to judge someone, but to encourage each of us to judge himself or herself.  I think many things that on the surface cause regret, when we probe deeper, contain potential for future good.  Some other things are just the result of living in a fallen world, be the fall ours or someone else’s.  Sometimes I may have trouble knowing the difference.  I pray for wisdom and God’s mercy.

Remember the words of Jesus:

These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world. (John 16:33 NKJV)

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