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Vol. 81 - No. 2
Feb 2010

WORD FROM THE PASTOR:             

Haiti and Anger with God

Amid all the horrific images of devastation coming from Haiti, there was one inspiring scene: Haitians gathering at outdoor worship services to raise their voices in praise to God. Haiti is a very religious country, and it was moving to see that people there did not allow even an earthquake to keep them from worshiping God.

One television reporter found that odd–how, he wondered, could you still worship a God who had allowed something so terrible to happen? That reporter did not understand something important about Christianity–that one can be disappointed with God, even angry at God, and still believe in Him and worship Him. One Haitian woman, who learned that several family members had perished in the earthquake, cried out: "God! I can’t take this anymore!" Others sang a song that said: "God, you are the one who gave us life. Why are we suffering?" These are people who believe passionately in God, but who feel that He has let them down.

And that feeling is not at all uncommon for believers. Naomi, the mother-in-law of Ruth, said this upon the death of her husband and her sons:

"The Lord almighty has made my life very bitter. I went away full, but the Lord has brought me back empty...The Lord has afflicted me; the almighty has brought misfortune upon me." (Ruth 1:20-21)

A believer who lived through the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians wrote this:

The Lord is like an enemy; He has swallowed up Israel. (Lamentations 2:5).

And the Psalmist actually accused God of sleeping on the job:

Awake, O Lord! Why do you sleep? Rouse yourself! Do not reject us forever.

Why do you hide your face and forget our misery and oppression? (Psalm 44:23-24)

Ideally, our relationship with God should be an ongoing embrace of love and devotion. But sometimes that embrace turns into a wrestling match–as Jacob discovered when he spent the night wrestling with God (Genesis 32:22-31). Sometimes we are close to God the way best friends are close; and other times, we are close to God the way wrestlers are close to one another in the ring!

The reason we can have such dramatic contrasts in our spiritual life is because we have a love relationship with God. And love relationships are often very complicated things. It’s pretty common to feel both deep love and deep frustration toward the important people in our lives. And the same pattern often exists in our relationship with God. "Lord, I love you–but I’m mad at you!" the pastor played by Robert Duvall cries out in The Apostle. There’s a legend about St. Teresa of Avila. She was riding in a carriage when it hit a bump and dumped her into a mud puddle. She cried out to God, "Lord, why did you let this happen to me?" And God said to her: "That’s how I treat all my friends." And St. Teresa replied, "Then it’s no wonder you have so few of them!" Teresa apparently felt secure enough in her love relationship with God that she could even get a little impudent with Him.

When we’re angry with God, the place to go is the holy Cross. This occurred to me recently as I was reading Cormac McCarthy’s The Road (in hopes of eventually seeing the well-reviewed film version!) The father in the book–who is trying to protect his son in a post-apocalyptic world–expresses his anger toward God in very graphic terms: "Are you there? Will I see you at the last? Have you a neck by which to throttle you?" The father is so angry that he hopes God has a body, so that he can choke God when he sees Him.

But the fact is...God does have a neck...God does have a body. That’s the message of Christmas–God has taken our flesh upon Himself. That body has not been choked...but it has been beaten, whipped, nailed to a cross, pierced with a spear. That body has been lacerated and tormented–has suffered great pain for us. That’s the message of Good Friday–that in human flesh, God has suffered.

And that, I think, is what ultimately silences any anger we have with God. We may lose our temper with Him when we see suffering in the world...but then we realize that He is not aloof to that suffering, He is not above that suffering, but rather He has made that suffering His own. He Himself has been touched by the world’s pain.

Most of the Biblical examples of anger with God –Naomi, the Psalmist, the author of Lamentations, Jacob wrestling with God–come from the Old Testament–i.e., before the crucifixion. Certainly we still get angry with God today–but the cross helps us deal with that anger. In the cross we see God as (in Alfred North Whitehead’s words) "a fellow sufferer who understands" rather than a cosmic despot who is indifferent to people’s pain.

One image from Haiti that caught my attention was that of a church that lay in ruins–a house of God that had been reduced to rubble. Yet–in front of the church, still standing strong and tall, was a large crucifix–Jesus Christ hanging on the Holy Cross. Amazingly, the earthquake had not dislodged that image. And that’s exactly what the world needs in the face of a disaster like Haiti–the message of the cross. Of a God who loves us so much that He was willing to suffer great pain, so that we can live with Him forever in a relationship of closeness and devotion.

May that message, and that Cross, bring comfort and hope to the people of Haiti, and to us all.

God loves you and so do I!

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