We’ve all heard that we need God’s forgiveness, but rarely do you hear people speak of our need to forgive God. More’s the shame because anyone who has ever had or will ever have a real relationship with God will at some point struggle with the necessity of forgiving Him. It may not be theologically sound, but it’s true nonetheless.
We are hurting people. I don’t know anyone who isn’t. Or wasn’t. This world is filled with wonder and joy, but it’s also hard. People die when they shouldn’t. We’re born to parents who have no business being allowed in the same room with children. (Not you, mom and dad!) There are terrible, painful illnesses that cannot be cured. We are told to forgive, but who do we need to forgive when the floods come? Who do we offer absolution to when our best efforts do nothing to improve our lot in life?
I struggle with anger towards God. Always have. I first met God in the middle of a fit of rage towards Him. And as long and winding as the journey since then has been, that anger has remained with me. It pops up over and over again. I’m angry because life isn’t fair and nothing I do seems to work out. I get angry when I hear other Christians tell stories of miraculous provisions while I can’t pay basic bills. I get angry because God is silent or because I can’t seem to find my way forward and I want Him to show me a way out. I’m angry because he hasn’t healed people I love of their wounds and blindness. I get angry that I’m still so quick to get angry. Nearly every day I experience pain or frustration and I find myself yelling at God and making demands and bitter, sarcastic complaints.
Now, I’m no narcissistic twit. I know that in the scheme of things, I have very little to complain about. I live in a nice house, have 5 healthy children, have no health problems myself, a husband who has worked very hard against incredible odd to take care of us, access to amazing technology, live free from oppression and have been able to choose my own path in life. These are amazing blessings. Yet that anger. It has remained an enduring feature of my relationship with God. I want more and I think that God should be giving it to me. Or at least lighting the way. And if not that, then surely he should be making me deliriously happy regardless of my circumstances. Like Paul singing in prison. Is that really so much to ask?
In my head I know that all this anger at God is ridiculous. God is perfect – he does not need my forgiveness. I know that the antidote to all this anger is perspective, acceptance, gratitude and service to others. Yet none of them has been enough. Lately, I’ve just been asking God to help me be rid of this anger towards him. And I’m reminded of the theologically wrong fact that we all need to forgive God. Forgive him for putting us into such an imperfect world. Forgive him for letting someone die or get sick or hurt us terribly. Forgive him for not rescuing us when life goes horribly awry or fixing our brains so that we can be drunk on life all the time. Oprah says that “forgiveness is letting go of the hope that the past can be changed.” Maybe forgiving God means letting go of the hope that life can be changed.
I have a small wall decoration with a bible verse on it that I picked up at Target on clearance a few years ago. It hangs outside my bedroom door and for some reason, every time someone slams the laundry room door, it shakes it crooked. So several times a day as I walk by I straighten it out and look at it. It says, “we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.” – Romans 5:3-4 And I’ve never been able to figure out – why does it say that character produces hope? What does that mean? Maybe it means that we learn to put our hope in something different. Maybe instead of hoping that God will change life or even change me, maybe it means that I come to see this life as it is as a hopeful thing.
The rest of Romans 5 compares the effect of the sin of Adam with the effect of the work of Jesus. Adam’s work resulted in a world where death and sin had precedence. Jesus’ work, Paul tells us, will work to greater effect. And this it seems is what Paul is saying we have hope in – that as the redemptive work of Jesus takes hold, the world will change. Maybe that’s what I need to be looking for in order to stop being so angry at God and to find a hope that doesn’t make my heart sick – signs of a world in the throes of redemption. That’s what I can have hope in – not what is, but what we know is becoming. That as bad as things have been, that is how good they are in the process of becoming. Maybe I need to let go of the hope that life can be different than it is and embrace the hope that life is becoming different than it is. And maybe if I can do that, I won’t be so angry at God all the time.
Romans 8:22 says “the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together”. Perhaps all this anger at God is a bit like being a woman in labor who swears she’ll never forgive her husband for getting her pregnant. And maybe the hope that Paul was pointing to – as we suffer, we are gaining character and as we gain character, we have hope that a new creation where sin and suffering no longer reign is in the process of being born. And the day is coming where we will no longer struggle to forgive God for putting us into this painful world. Instead we’ll be able to look in amazement at what God and man together have made.
* I needed a break from Hell Week. Each post requires me to sift through an enormous amount of material to pull out the relevant information I want to share. And another 3-5 hours to write the actual essays. I wasn’t kidding when I said that I read through thousands of pages when I studied the subject. Creating fairly brief, readable essays has proven to be a real challenge. I’m a bit burned out at the moment, but I’ll get back to it in another day or two!