Thursday, 23 September 2021
EVER since human beings have had the capacity to love and rejoice and laugh, they have also wept and mourned and beaten the ground in sheer anger.
The Bible contains several instances of people raging against God over their misfortunes.
You have made us like sheep for slaughter, complains the Psalmist, the taunt of our neighbours, a laughing stock among the people. All this has come upon us, though we have not forgotten you (Psalm 44:11-17).
The great prophet Jeremiah even called God a deceitful brook with waters that fail at one of the most despairing moments (Jeremiah 15:18).
We, too, need to be confident enough to pour all our feelings out to God when misfortune strikes. Stiff devotional upper lips are out.
Some people seem to think that the job of religion is to clothe everything unpleasant in holy language, so that the dead have gone to a better place, sickness must be the will of God and all misfortunes are little things sent to try us.
I cringe when such ideas are pushed upon people who are unhappy.
When people are at their most vulnerable, they do not want to be told what they ought to be thinking. They need to be accepted as they are and given space. This is how God treats us and we are not good ambassadors of him if we try to force pious interpretation of events on to people in his name.
It is not that religious insight about suffering is wrong; there is an important place for thinking through our pain in the light of God’s activity with us and in us. But that comes later. The first basic need is to be absolutely open and honest with God.
A priest who spends much time counselling the bereaved has seen inner healing take place in many people, when they were able to let go and give vent to their grief and their anger with God.
At first they were stunned and closed to any idea of praying. But when gently encouraged to pour out all the bitterness inside them, they often felt relieved because the worst had been said. Instead of saying “I can’t pray” their misery had itself become prayer.
Some of these people were surprised to experience a sense of profound peace. You could describe this as being wrapped in love in spite of the pain.
If we are politely insincere with God, we build a wall between us and him. Finding easy explanations for suffering may keep him theologically respectable, but we are only protecting the idol of a safe and predictable deity and losing touch with the true God in the process.
You cannot let God off the hook. Don’t be afraid to tell him so. He can take it, he always has.
Both the people who are dying and their friends and relations and lovers must be free to express all their negative feeling and be angry with God if they want to. Often when you’ve expressed something it loses its power.
And it’s often by getting into anger that you find the real cause of many problems that have existed between you and the dying person. Because death is coming, we sometimes see families resolve problems in a short time — you move fast in a crisis.
And it’s much easier if everyone is being honest.
06 August 2018
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