A friend of mine has been going through some tough times, and as he was telling me about them, he mentioned being angry at God, then being embarrassed for being angry at God. Embarrassment strikes me as wholly unnecessary – but a natural and understandable outgrowth of our American culture, which moralizes success and makes failure in any sense a matter of character rather than circumstance or dumb luck.
It so happened that I had finished reading the counter-testimony section in Theology of the Old Testament where Walter Brueggemann discusses the counter-testimony of Israel. And much of what Brueggemann had to say about the difficult passages that make up that counter-testimony seemed appropriate for my friend’s feelings – and I suspect the feelings of many of this blog’s readers, who seem to be questioning, doubting types. So here’s what I said, and I hope it blesses you today:
As I go through grad school, I’m more and more convinced there’s not really a “right/better” or a “wrong/worse” way to handle the horribleness of life. We’re in the middle of studying Old Testament theology, particularly Israel’s counter-testimony of Yahweh. I wrote a little about this on my blog, but Jeremiah 20:7ff is a powerful diatribe by someone who is very close to God and feels God raped him (“You deceived/seduced me, and I was deceived/seduced. You overpowered/raped me, and I am overcome/cannot stand.”)
The Old Testament provides a rich depth of crisis management, in which the protagonists (Israel) accuse God of betrayal, injustice, abuse and neglect. We tend to overlook this because, let’s face it, we Americans like our faith like our television shows: light and fluffy. Walter Brueggemann puts it this way:
The conventional attitude of ecclesial communities, Christian more than Jewish, is to opt for the core testimony of faithful sovereignty and sovereign fidelity and to eliminate or disregard the countertestimony of hiddenness, ambiguity and negativity from the horizon of faith. Such a process yields a coherent faith, but it requires mumbling through many aspects of lived experience.
There’s a place for hope and trust in the goodness of God, but there is absolutely space that God provides for us to rail, question, doubt and shout in anger. After all, it’s in the Bible, whose creation and canonization he inspired. So if I can encourage you in some small way, it’s to not be embarrassed when you feel angry with God. It shows you’re alive, that you have a sense of who God is – what love and mercy and justice are – and how the life you have, the one he has given you, is failing to meet those standards.
That said, there is hope, right? No matter what happens, no matter how faint it becomes, there’s the hope of the empty grave and the promised return and restoration. Brueggemann quotes George Steiner:
There is one particular day in Western history about which neither historical record nor myth nor Scripture make report. It is a Saturday. We know of that Good Friday which Christianity holds to have been that of the Cross. … We also know about Sunday. … But ours is a long day’s journey of the Saturday. Between suffering, aloneness, unutterable waste on the one hand and the dream of liberation, of rebirth on the other.
Brueggemann points out that the Old Testament ends with, “Before the great and terrible day of the Lord comes.” And the New Testament ends with, “Come, Lord Jesus!” Even the Hebrew Bible, which ends with 2 Chronicles instead of Malachi, ends, “Let us go up.”
We are waiting, some of us more earnestly than others, for creation to cease its groaning and be restored. I don’t pretend to know personally what you’re going through. I don’t understand why some people have terrible luck while others remain incredibly fortunate. But I’m coming to understand that God is more than able to handle the raw responses of those who suffer under the abuse his creation deals to them during this long, long Saturday.