A Murmuring Spirit is a Greater Evil than Any Affliction

It can be dangerous to live in South Africa. I haven’t really thought much about it in a while, partly probably because it has been quiet for us the past several years, but when we first moved here, we experienced a hold up, an attempted car-jacking, a mugging, and a home invasion. Writing that, I realize it sounds worse than it felt at the time, but the reality is, that it can be dangerous to live in South Africa. Not just for one group of people either. I think perhaps certain groups of people are more shocked by the crime than others maybe because they assume that crime shouldn’t be happening in the kinds of areas in which they live, but after hearing the outcry from one group of my friends, I will sometimes ask another group if those kinds of things have happened to them, and their stories, once I draw them out, are just as intense. It is kind of strange actually, how the conversations change, if I move from one set of friends from a certain background to another set of friends from another background. They are both living in the same country, they both are experiencing crime and they both are living in dangerous circumstances, but I can pretty much guarantee, with the one group of people, if I am with them long enough, the conversation will shift to how bad things are in South Africa and to terrible things that they have heard happened or have happened to them, where with the other, I can go months and months without those same kinds of talks. At least not with the depressing tone. And honestly, I don’t think I am over exaggerating. Maybe a little, but not too much. It makes me wonder, you know, what is the right response to living in a place where there are a lot of bad things that are happening as a result of people’s selfishness and sin? Because obviously, there should be a certain outrage at injustice and crime and murder. It’s wicked. It’s selfish. It’s not how God designed things to be. And there should be a certain degree of sorrow we feel for those who are impacted. It’s real. It’s not a game. People are hurting. But at the same time I have a feeling that maybe one of the things that is most dangerous about living in a country where dangerous things are happening is that it becomes safe to habitually and continually complain. Something is obviously wrong if we don’t feel anything when terrible stuff is happening to us and to people we love and to those around us. We can’t just raise our eyebrows and shrug and say what’s for lunch? When painful things happen, we have to be able to speak about it with other believers. We are not the church of the plastic smiles. But at the same time we have to be very careful as we express our outrage and our sorrow that we do so in a way that in the end acknowledges the wisdom and goodness of God. Certainly there may be some sentences or paragraphs in our conversations with one another that are focused on lament. There may even be extended seasons of lament. I just don’t see how it can be all lament all the time. The gospel is too good to always just be singing that one note. If there’s one theme that we want people to expect from conversations with us, shouldn’t we want it to be the glory of Christ and the love and wisdom of God? Not the fact that we don’t like load shedding and we can’t believe Eskom? Shouldn’t we want people to walk away knowing not just that we trust God with our heads hung low because what else can you do, but that we delight to serve a wise and all knowing and perfectly good God, who we are convinced is good right now, even though we don’t always exactly see it? I know it can be hard to live in a place where there is so much suffering, and it’s always easier to suffer well when you are not really suffering, but ultimately, I think we all know what’s even worse for us than suffering is developing the habit of responding to that suffering, the wrong way, with complaining. While we always want to be able to share our burdens with other believers, we don’t ever want it to become normal for us, to complain and murmur against God. Because, as Jeremiah Burroughs once put it, “a murmuring spirit is a greater evil than any affliction, whatever the affliction!”

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