Fall 2016

The Culture of Complaint

Moving from complaining to gratitude

By Karin Stetina

This issue’s Last Word comes from The Good Book Blog, the faculty blog of Biola’s Talbot School of Theology. This article is adapted from a post that first appeared on March 23, 2016.

This past fall a friend shared an article from the New York Times titled “The Microcomplaint: Nothing Too Small to Complain About.” It was amusing to read about all the silly complaints that celebrities tweeted to the world: everything from the misery of only decaf coffee being available to what the writer deemed a “complaintbrag” of not being able to buy a Persian rug with cherub imagery.

This habit, however, does not appear to be limited to celebrities. Cruise ship directors have received equally amusing complaints. For example, one passenger reported that the sea was “too loud” while another passenger grumbled about there being no celebrities on the Celebrity cruise ship.                       

In the past complaining was something often reserved for private ears. Today, how- ever, it is not only acceptable to publicly complain about the littlest inconvenience, it is often encouraged. It has even been identified as a communication style, particularly of Americans, who frequently see themselves as victims.

Are Christians exempt from “microcomplaining” or are we part of the “culture of complaint”? What does Scripture have to say about complaining?                   

I only need to look at my own attitude and read through my text messages to my husband to realize that Christians are susceptible to “microcomplaining.”                        

“What’s up with this rain? :(”

“Loose wire — another trip to the ortho. :(" “No time for a run today. :(”                        

While I am not a big social media person, I have become more than familiar with the American “complaint style” of communication, as you can see by my use of emoticons. It no longer seems petty to complain about the weather (which is pretty hard to do in Southern California), dealing with appointments for my kids (which are paid for by my excellent insurance plan) or not having enough time to exercise (which is probably because I slept in). Very first world problems.                     

As I helped my son memorize Philippians 2:14 for Awana, “Do all things without grumbling or questioning,” a passage that I had carefully tried to avoid committing to memory, I felt the conviction of the Holy Spirit. My son had to fill out a five-day chart where one of the requirements was that he not complain. On day five, I served meatball subs for dinner, definitely not one of his favorites. He managed to make it through dinner without complaining and even thanked me. Did I share his “encouraging style” of communication, much less an attitude of gratefulness, as 1 Thessalonians 5:18, one of my favorite verses, encourages?                        

We aren’t the first generation to struggle with grumbling. The book of Numbers records how the Israelites complained and kindled God’s anger toward them (Num. 11:1–4). Throughout Scripture it is clear that there is no place for grumbling in the godly life, not even if you are wandering in the desert for 40 years. In Ephesians 4:29, Paul admonishes us instead to use our words to build others up. Even in suffering — being unjustly mocked and scourged — Christ did not complain (Is. 53:7; John 12:27). He suffered for us, leaving us an example (1 Pet. 2:21).                       

So today, what attitude do we chose — one of complaint or one of gratitude? In 1 Corinthians 4:7, everything is put in perspective: “What do you have that you did not receive?” Nothing is ours in the first place. It is all God’s. The Holy Spirit can help us turn our attitude from grumbling to gratitude and ultimately praise.                           


Karin Stetina, an associate professor of biblical and theological studies, joined Biola’s faculty in 2015, bringing with her 20 years of experience teaching theology and church history at Wheaton College and various churches. She holds a Ph.D. from Marquette University.

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  • Clay Elliott November 27, 2016 at 1:39 PM

    Thanks for the reminder and the challenge to move from complaining to gratitude even in the simple text. Great word!

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