The Age of Grievance

Trinity Pres Church copy

Webster’s Dictionary defines grievance as “a real or imagined wrong or other cause for complaint or protest; an official statement of a complaint over something believed to be wrong or unfair; or a feeling of resentment over something believed to be wrong or unfair.”

In a new book released last week, The Age of Grievance, American journalist Frank Bruni has offered an insightful examination of the ways in which grievance has come to define our culture (especially in politics, on both the right and left). Bruni documents how more and more of us are keeping a record of slights or pulling out the tape measure on our perceived misfortunes and blaming others for it. As Bruni would say, “The blame game has become the country’s most popular sport and victimhood its most fashionable garb.”

What is significant to me is that this attitude or tone is characterizing Christians as much as it is the rest of our society.

Yet against this trend, God’s Word says: “Do all things without grumbling or disputing, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world.” (Philippians 2:14-15)

It is not a sin to lodge a legitimate complaint before an appropriate authority. This is the business of our court system as Americans. And it is the very nature of what it means in Scripture to lament. By a lament, we lodge our complaints before the LORD, as He invites us to “with thanksgiving, make our requests known to Him.”  He sees the truth. He will hold everyone accountable (us included).

Given our sinfulness, however, it is remarkable that if anyone could lodge any legitimate complaint against anyone, it would be God’s right and ability to protest our unfair treatment of others and Him. The LORD, God Almighty, has made an official statement about our wrongdoings. “There is none righteous; not one. All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”

Yet 1) we have the audacity to complain that somehow, He is the One who has failed. And 2) we do not typically take our complaints to appropriate authorities in an appropriate way. We generally live grumbling or complaining into the air as if we are entitled to tell anyone who will listen about how badly we have it.

Because of the Gospel, instead of grumbling or living with a perpetual sense of grievance, I actually grow to see that I am the biggest offender I know. Like King David prayed to the LORD in Psalm 51, “You are just when You judge.”  If Jesus is my Substitute in His saving work, then as He was indicted for blasphemy before a Jewish court (making Himself God) and for treason before a Roman court (working to tear down the true king), then He was revealing what He believes I have done. There has never been a more appropriate grievance ever filed than in that indictment. As Sinclair Ferguson, the Scottish theologian, pointed out, those were charges against which Jesus did not complain. He remained silent because, at that moment, He was not there as Himself — He was there as our representative, and as such, there was no defense. He believes we are guilty of those charges, and therefore, as our legal substitute, He did not make any defense.

Jesus had the most legitimate grievance ever, and He did not complain. He trusted His Father’s plan, and He loved us enough to bear the weight of our failures, absorb the immeasurable costs, and freely offer us His own privileges and blessings instead.

This is a profound opportunity to shine the Light of Jesus into a very dark (and darkening?) world. Let go of your petty grievances. Marvel at how the Lord has treated you when He could itemize His list of complaints against you and obliterate you justly for any of them. And take up the song of humble gratitude instead. John Newton said it best: “Amazing Grace… how sweet the sound…”