At the end of C S Lewis’ Til We Have Faces there is this amazing scene. The protagonist, Orual, at the end of her life comes to face the gods. She has long had complaints against them for how they run their universe and the circumstances she has endured. She comes with her case against them – a large book – but arriving finds only a small scrap of paper scribbled with accusations. She reads her complaints to them again and again but they do not respond. In the end it is her complaint against the gods that become her condemnation. She blames everything in the world against them but finds she is in no place to accuse, judge, or decide over them.
Orual’s accusation against the gods is my favourite literary illustration of complaining against God. Yes, Lewis uses pagan gods as stand-ins for the One True God but as to whether that’s cool for a Christian author to do, let’s leave for another day. The point is that when life is difficult, circumstances are not what we would choose, when suffering comes our way there is a temptation to accuse God. I remember my first great disappointment as a new believer. Life had not gone the way I wanted and I was dejected. During that time I encountered, for the first time, the temptation to complain against God for my circumstances. Far more serious than my own story is the presence of even greater suffering, death, and confusion in this world. Many people have found themselves asking ‘why?’ of God.
There is no shame in pouring out our hearts to God and asking ‘why?’ In fact, it is a good thing to seek Him when we are confused and at the end of ourselves. Life is not easy – no promise that it would be – and God meets us when we are in need. Job poured out his heart and even his complaints to God. God is not beholden to us, His creatures, and does not obligate Himself to answer to us. To Job, He declares His rule over all things. He does not answer Job’s ‘why?’ Instead, Job finds healing in learning that God is in control and His purposes remain secret (Job 38-39). It can be a profoundly good thing to pour out the heart to God in the midst of confusion and suffering. God can meet us in that place and show who He is.
There is a different kind of questioning – not the pouring out of heart in grief – but a cool, detached questioning which places God on trial. It is one thing to have grief but altogether different to accuse God and place ourselves in judgment over Him. John Calvin called that type of complaint ‘spitting into the sky’ (The Institutes of the Christian Religion, 1.18.3). It accomplishes nothing, spitting into the sky does not change heaven. Also, what goes up must come down. We accuse God but He is not ours to judge. Like Orual, our accusations fall back down upon us. Our spit falls back into our own face.
Life can hurt and questions can go unanswered. We can pour out our hearts to God but let’s not spit our accusations into the sky.