The next look at Philippians in the context of our lockdown takes us to chapter two and verses twelve to eighteen. As with everything in Paul’s writing, it would be possible to dissect this in great detail and analyse all of the details of each sentence. The depth of his writing is incredible. However, I’d like to simply pick up on one short verse and then let that inspire some thoughts.
Do everything without grumbling or arguingPhil. 2:14
Do everything without grumbling? He’s kidding right?
Let’s face it, we have plenty to grumble about in our current situation. We are more or less confined to our houses, many people have been furloughed or made redundant, we can’t go to church, we can only see our families via Zoom and to cap it all off, we run the danger of catching a deadly disease. Grumbling would seem to be a perfectly natural response to the situation that we find ourselves living through.
Except, Paul says that we shouldn’t do it.
There is good biblical precedent for Paul’s comment. The Israelites were condemned for grumbling at Meribah in Exodus 17. But, just because we can’t grumble, doesn’t mean that we can’t complain about our situation. After all, the Psalmist famously mentions sitting down and weeping by the waters of Babylon (Psalm 137).
Psalm 13 is an excellent example of how Christians could react during lockdown.
The first thing that the Psalmist does is turns to God. He prays. His prayer isn’t an easy one, in fact in the first two verses he starts off by complaining. He repeats the phrase “how long” four times in these verses. He doesn’t feel God’s presence and his thoughts and circumstances seem as though they are crushing him.
However, he doesn’t stop at complaining, in verses two and three he asks for God to help him. Then in the last two verses, he clearly places his trust in God.
What we have in this Psalm is an example of lament, a profoundly Christian expression which contrasts with grumbling. Grumbles have an inward focus on our own situation and lead to an inevitable downward spiral. Lament is focused on God and in the middle of pain, it leads to trust. Lament is a healthy sign that we are homesick for heaven, it is an acknowledgement that things are painful, but it also acknowledges that God is sovereign in the midst of the pain.
Lament slows us down, it gives us time and space to think through what is happening and it provides a framework in which we can seek God and find refuge in him. It is about painful, wordless utterances rather than eloquent, well-worded prayers.
So, don’t grumble, lament!
If you’d like to think through more about the subject of lament, I strongly recommend this book. I am also very grateful to Richard Underwood formerly of FIEC, whose ideas I knocked for much of this post.