A Generous Grace

ideas on practical spirituality and loving each other

When God Isn’t Who You Thought He Was: On Spiritual Bewilderment and Anger

Perhaps one of the most unsettling aspects of this year of upheaval for my family has been my own understanding of who God is. It actually took me awhile to churn out this post for you, because, well, “I’m angry with God” should ideally have some kind of resolution at the end, right? I’ve learned people get unsettled when you tell them you’re feeling spiritually jaded or rattled.

But when I pawed through it a bit—there were a lot of people in the Bible dealing with God wearing a different name tag, so to speak, than the One they thought He wore. Jonah was plenty angry. King Saul. But there are more model citizens, too. David. Job. Elijah, burned out and cowering in a cave. John the Baptist, slouching in the corner of a fetid cell: Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?

My head cocks sideways at Erwin McManus’ paraphrased response of Jesus to John:

The blind see, the lame walk, the dead are being raised, but you, John, you are going to die.

My sister, in her post on this passage (Matthew 11), writes poignantly,

For some, the Messiah looks like healing, cleansing, hearing, hope; and for others, it looks like prison. It looks like a life in the wilderness that ends in a beheading.

But “blessed is the one who is not offended.”

#blessed #pierced

I mentioned to you that I’ve been mulling over the life of Mary, thanks to an excellent speaker a week ago. Here is what I get stuck on: That Mary is called “favored” (literally “graced” in the Greek) and “blessed”. The reasons for this are clear.

But then, thumb a few pages to the right. Pierced.

As in, you will live in the shame of your community, and a near-divorce. You will flee your son’s intended infanticide, but your friends won’t make it out. Your son will die of the sickest form of unjust capital punishment. But not before you’ve wondered if He’s gone off the deep end.

And if I thought Mary was an anomaly—I look at her son. His disciples. The prophets before them. “Blessed” and “pierced” are frighteningly, frequently hand in hand. Important note: That’s not to say God called those things good. God says things will work together for the good. There’s a reason Jesus cries angrily at the tomb of Lazarus, despite a miracle around the corner. 

St. Teresa of Avila is quoted as saying to God (I believe after she fell off a horse into the mud?), “If this is the way you treat your friends, it’s no wonder you have so few!” Or maybe more commonly spoken, With friends like you, who needs enemies?

Looking back two thousand years, the method behind the madness of John’s suffering, or Mary or Jesus’, is more apparent. But honestly, I’m still wrestling with the drawn-out suffering of my friend’s mom, who eventually succumbed to cancer at fifty-something. I’m still unsettled at the death of a man above my lap, and why God chose for me to be there, having hired the instrument of his passing. I’m still confused by the gap of profound suffering between the impoverished world and the developed one—and what seems like an unfair lottery, but decidedly is not.

And because God doesn’t see our pain as good, in and of itself–it makes me wonder if He’s weeping, too.

The Resolution (-ish)

It’s unrealistic to think I would resolve this for you in 1000 words. I’ve written for you about that gray Saturday of waiting for a resurrection. About preaching to myself a bit rather than just listening. About crying out when God’s character appears different than who He says He is.  About lamenting what is truly a travesty in this broken world—that, come Heaven, I will be ready and willing to chuck in exchange for clarity at last; for no more mourning or crying or pain, when God at last proves Himself. When at last everyone can see there are no victims of His justice system.

I know that my anger is like a bathroom scale not zeroed in: It’s miscalibrated. Faulty in its judgments. And I know that beneath my anger (a secondary emotion, I’m told), is some profound hurt. Disappoinment. Confusion. Unbelief. Some shuddering fear.

Twice someone has pointed out the introductory verse of Isaiah 6: In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up. One pastor paraphrased, When everyone was freaking out, I saw the glory of the Eternal God and King.

That holy, holy, holy (separate, high above, yet still God-with-us) Father reminds me that for now, what I have is hope. I have faith, rather than what I see with my own myopic, 36-year-old-female-in-Colorado-in-2017 eyes. Right now what I have is a choice: That God’s goodness is more pure and true than anything I could create or comprehend. Evelyn Underhill writes, “If God were small enough to be understood, he wouldn’t be big enough to be worshipped.” Along with the Psalmist, we cry, How long, O Lord?

I wait for the Lord, my whole being waits, and in his word I put my hope. (Psalm 130:5)

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2 Comments

  1. You’ve voiced in eloquence what my heart feels.. it sometimes feels unfair .. in our eyes.”hind sight is not always 20-20″ we only know in part. Thanks Ginelle

    • Oh, I miss you, friend. You’re so right. Someday we’ll know fully, but right now I feel so acutely that we “see through a glass darkly” (1 Corinthians 13). I miss you!! Love to all. –Janel

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