On Being Angry at God

My daughter took me to task for my recent lament, “I Hate Jesus,” telling me in an otherwise supportive and encouraging Facebook posting:

I have something to tell you, Mr :
a) You are NOT alone in all this mess. I promise, you are not!
b) Thanks for being a part of my life. Thanks for being the one that loves me no matter what I do. Thanks for being HERE with me & for me.
c) Why the heck did you have to use such words in “I hate Jesus”? Maaan, you are to be my example 😛

So, Slečna Beseodva (I use her name in my book, so why not here?), I will attempt to explain why I can say “I hate Jesus” and still be an example of faith. (This also goes for the rest of you out there too.)

Typically, Christians are inclined to think of a statement like “I hate Jesus” as an example of faithlessness. Indeed, our approach to God generally seems to be, “Don’t piss God off, or he’ll get you!” (Like the crucified thief in The Passion of The Christ, who badmouths Jesus and get his eye pecked out by a raven for his troubles.) One is never supposed to be mad, or backtalk, or question, or doubt God. EVER.

Because that isn’t faith. It is unfaith.

Except the understanding presupposes something — that we come to God, of our own free will, and “believe” (that we accede to a set of logical and reasoned propositions about God). In short, we’ve followed the evangelical/fundamentalist script, understood our sinfulness, believed Jesus is the solution to our sinfulness, and pray a pray that “invites Jesus into our hearts.” Under this understanding, anything that isn’t a positive response or approach to God — anything that isn’t gratefulness or adoration or praise or thanksgiving or “I love you Lord” — risks the loss of faith.

And thus the loss of salvation.

Again, this assumes that the believers approaches God, and that the community of believers is made up largely or entirely of people who have come to God. I will not deny the reality of this — I do believe some people clearly experience God this way, and do somehow choose to follow Jesus.

But this is not the experience of Israel in scripture.

Abraham is called to leave his land, and because of that, he spends the rest of his days wandering around, trusting in a series of promises he will never see. The story the Bible gives us is one in which God calls Abram and his family. Not of God going from family to family asking, “will you do something for me?” God chose Abram. To leave. Maybe Abram was primed to leave Ur (or Haran, where he sojourned with his father Terah) anyway. But clearly, God calls Abram.

The same is true of Israel, a people in and by that call to Abraham. So, by the time Israel has been enslaved in Egypt, the Bible says:

23 During those many days the king of Egypt died, and the people of Israel groaned because of their slavery and cried out for help. Their cry for rescue from slavery came up to God. 24 And God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob. 25 God saw the people of Israel—and God knew. (Exodus 2:23-25 ESV)

Israel groans and cries out to God, a “cry for rescue.” But there is no “get us out of Egypt!” That ends up being God’s plan. Not Israel’s. I’m not sure Israel would have known what rescue looked like. But God did.

And note well — the rescue that’s coming is God’s unilateral act. God did not ask Israel what Israel wanted, or solicit Israel’s input on what was about to happen. God simply acts

Which, I think, puts Israel’s ungrateful response in some context.

10 When Pharaoh drew near, the people of Israel lifted up their eyes, and behold, the Egyptians were marching after them, and they feared greatly. And the people of Israel cried out to the Lord. 11 They said to Moses, “Is it because there are no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness? What have you done to us in bringing us out of Egypt? 12 Is not this what we said to you in Egypt:‘Leave us alone that we may serve the Egyptians’? For it would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the wilderness.” 13 And Moses said to the people, “Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the Lord, which he will work for you today. For the Egyptians whom you see today, you shall never see again. 14 The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to be silent. (Exodus 14:10-14 ESV)

Or this

22 Then Moses made Israel set out from the Red Sea, and they went into the wilderness of Shur. They went three days in the wilderness and found no water. 23 When they came to Marah, they could not drink the water of Marah because it was bitter; therefore it was named Marah. 24 And the people grumbled against Moses, saying, “What shall we drink?” 25 And he cried to the Lord, and the Lord showed him a log, and he threw it into the water, and the water became sweet. (Exodus 15:22-25 ESV)

Or this

1 They set out from Elim, and all the congregation of the people of Israel came to the wilderness of Sin, which is between Elim and Sinai, on the fifteenth day of the second month after they had departed from the land of Egypt. 2 And the whole congregation of the people of Israel grumbled against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness, 3 and the people of Israel said to them, “Would that we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the meat pots and ate bread to the full, for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.”
4 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Behold, I am about to rain bread from heaven for you, and the people shall go out and gather a day’s portion every day, that I may test them, whether they will walk in my law or not. 5 On the sixth day, when they prepare what they bring in, it will be twice as much as they gather daily. (Exodus 16:1-5 ESV)

It gets worse in Numbers, I think because God has gotten very angry at Israel’s whininess. “I did this wonderful thing for you and all you can do is complain?!?” God screams at an Israel busy saying, “We didn’t ask for this!! Did you really bring us this far to die of hunger and thirst?” So, when Israel laments over the lack of meat to eat, and remembers the wonderful food of Egypt, God responds that He will send meat

… until it comes out at your nostrils and becomes loathsome to you… (Numbers 11:20 ESV)

Yes, Israel is a stiff-necked and ungrateful people. But consider it this way — God didn’t consult them on the matter of their calling, their forming, their slavery, and now their rescue. Israel was yanked out of Egypt, tossed into the wilderness, and God himself is a bit of a fool if He thinks somehow Israel is going to be grateful rather than confused, angry, and somewhat disoriented. (This is something God had to learn about in his dealings with Israel.) Plus, Israel is utterly dependent on God for survival, and while God clearly knows what Israel needs, God doesn’t actually provide any of it until Israel whinges about being thirsty and hungry.

This is not a relationship Israel volunteered for. For whatever reason, God fell in love with Israel and decided he would be their God and they His people. Other nations may embrace The Lord God as their God (and people from other nations do that throughout scripture), but God only picks one people — Israel. That means Israel gets to talk differently to God. Israel gets to make demands, even express anger, that no one else gets to do.

We see this same kind of arrangement in the New Testament, particularly in the three synoptic gospels — Mark, Matthew, and Luke. Many people follow Jesus — the crowds are ever present in all three gospels — but there are a handful of people Jesus actually singles out and says, “follow me.”

This doesn’t make them better people, better followers, or better Christians. Indeed, something I noticed as I scanned the three gospels — the great healing and demon castings Jesus does are done by people who either come to Jesus or are presented to Jesus. Healing and casting out is for the crowds of people coming to follow Jesus. But not for his disciples. The people Jesus calls are to feed. They are not fed. They are to heal and cast out. They aren’t healed themselves.

So, I’ve learned to accept (after some time as a Lutheran dismissing choice theology) that some people do, in fact, choose to follow Jesus. They repent and pray a sinner’s prayer and invite Jesus to be part of their lives and they come and follow Jesus. They are good and faithful servants of the Lord.

But some of us Jesus finds minding our own business in the marketplace, or out fishing, or on the way to Damascus, and Jesus calls us, “Follow me.” We are not better. We are not worse. This is not a more legitimate way of meeting God. I’ve never prayed a sinner’s prayer, and have never accepted Jesus into my heart. I don’t need to because I know he’s called me to follow — I met him in the midst of fire and death — and that he has always been there, suffering and wandering with me.

And so when I say “I hate Jesus,” I’m not manifesting anything remotely resembling unbelief. I could no more not believe in God then I could simply stop breathing of my own accord. My faith has never really been my choice, and nor is this calling to proclaim the love of God — despite the miserable circumstances it has led me to. Because I know God has never left me and never will. Because God called me to follow to whatever miserable and wonderful end God has called me to. “He will suffer much for my name,” Jesus said to Ananaias about Paul.

Said to Pastor Mark Olsen about me.

Indeed, I think to be stiff-necked and ungrateful occasionally is to show faithfulness. It is to demand of God, knowing that whatever God may know about our circumstances, God does not actually provide water and food until at least some of us complain.

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