Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Telling God Off

Of the two people among the many to whom I fessed up, she is one who offers a terrible, yet similar story. The other is my lovely wife, who consoles me with kind assurance. And yet, prior to that, her look had said, “That’s ridiculous.” Everyone else grimaces, quivers their lip, or gives a look of fright. None of them sets forth any condemnation. But the looks and expressions: “Wow” is one. “No, I’ve never done that. I’d be too scared,” says the other. “Oh,” says yet another. Finally, one cocks his head to the side and purses his lips in an awkward angle of mishap. He says nothing at first, before offering a note of comfort from a similar, yet less bold experience. "In Hebrew," he says, "There is no 'Why?' There is only 'For what reason?'" He repeats. "There is no 'Why?'" The significance of this escapes me....

But the terrible, yet similar story was this: she had been abused by her father as a girl. In every way. “Physically, emotionally, verbally and sexually,” she said. Sexually. Her father! I would never have known. “Leave me alone,” she said, to her Father. (I've not had such an awful experience at all, actually. My parents didn't abuse me in any way).

Here is the similarity: “Leave me alone,” I say. “I’m done with you. I can’t do this anymore.” Without missing a beat: “No no no, I don’t mean that…” Justification of self, lament, and real honest opinion ensue from there. “I’m just having a hard time, here.” I’ve told God to take a hike. Now, three months later, I’m feeling guilt, shame, remorse, and a deep, deep, dread. It’s the dread you feel when that careless driver almost kills you and your children, and you draw mental pictures, and sense with real feeling what it would be like to lose your children because of some idiot's recklessness. “I don’t mean that God. I don’t want to go to hell. Don’t abandon me. Please. Please don’t. I didn’t mean it. I’m sorry.” Tears. Fear and tears, and despair. “Please just tell me you love me. Tell me I’m yours. Tell me that you’ll never let me go. God, I’m sorry.”

My wife wakes up that morning with a red spot on her belly—her seven-month pregnant belly. It's red with a white dot in the middle. Lyme disease. I knew it. She’s been bitten by a tick. I should have never moved my family to North Carolina. Not near the number of ticks in Michigan. She’ll never finish pharmacy school, and she’ll be chronically ill, and I’ll be stuck working at this warehouse making $11 an hour and we’ll be in the poorhouse forever. I’ve just gotten back from a life-shattering trip to Ethiopia, helping HIV/AIDS victims, lepers, widows, orphans. Rape victims. “Daddy are you ok?” my daughter asks upon my arrival. I’m on my hands and knees on the living room floor, convulsing with shaking grief, amd tears streaming down my face, with snot-filled sinuses swelling my head like a balloon. “No, honey. I’m not ok,” I’d say, through a lens of water. Trying to look at her, her image swims and fades through the watery lens of my eyes. No honey. Daddy's not ok.

I’ve seen things that are rarely seen: a naked man on a street begging for food. A blind man doing the same. A legless man doing the same. A woman with babies doing the same (she may have stolen them for this use). I’ve seen a woman whose husband gave her AIDS and left her. I’ve heard of a nine-year-old girl who has been raped and sent to the hospital for surgery. Nine! Now, our family dreams of trying to build a better life are gone. My wife will get sick, and I won’t be able to get a job. I went to school for pastoral training, and can’t find good work in the secular world. Even if I am to be a pastor, who can do that with a sick wife? Not me, that’s for damned sure. Get some high-paying job. But what? More school, that’s what. And then try to find a job in my mid 40’s. Mid 40’s and no experience in anything but odds and ends. What, do I have to go to medical school to make a decent living? Bunk!

Then I say it. Now, months later, guilt like a heavy, lead-filled blanket lay on my back. Have I committed the unforgivable sin? Have I blasphemed the Holy Spirit? A study of the Bible says no, but there it is: guilt and shame. How could God love me after I say this to him? What greater sin is there than telling God to get lost? Life has lost its meaning.

“Chris, I’ve said that to God before too,” she says. When her dad was abusing her, the only hope she had was her grandmother. Grandma was it: her only comfort and consolation. Then she dies. Twelve-years old, abused and with only one friend. Now that friend is gone. Taken. “Leave me alone,” she says to God. But now things are different…

God as Father is not easy for me. I usually cringe when people smile and say, “God loves you.” It’s so sappy. These people don’t know any theology, or logic, or philosophy. They hardly even know their Bibles. The God of the Bible is love yes. God is love. I affirm that. I believe that. I live that! But the God of the Bible is a fierce, mighty, king-warrior, who warns his people time and again. Don’t become proud or arrogant, or you too will be cut off (Romans 11). If you don’t forgive others their sins, my heavenly father will not forgive you yours (Matthew 6). And Jesus in John 15 says that the branches in the vine that don’t bear fruit are cut off and thrown into the fire. There’s the whole book of Hebrews, and so on. Scary, right? Yes!

I decided to read Job. I came across chapter seven, verse 16. Job is complaining to God. Making sure I have the context right, I read slowly. Job here is complaining to God. Now, I’ve been so desperate to not just know I’m forgiven, but to feel it.

“Does God forgive me?” I ask my friends.
“I don’t give absolutions,” says one.
“But the Bible says if we confess our sins he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness, right?”
“Yes it does. So on that, you’re forgiven.”

I want to know God loves me, and believe it, and I want to sense it in the innermost core of my being. That God the Father loves me seems unlikely. Jesus? Of course. But God the Father? Not so sure. But Jesus says in John 17 that he and the Father are one, and that the Father loves those who are in Jesus. So the Father loves me. Jesus is the express image of God the Father, so God the Father loves me. He loves me. This may seem simple to you, but it’s not to me. It’s not simple at all. I’m not worthy of his love (none of us are), and God the Father has seemed very distant to me (here’s where you ask me about my relationship with my dad). But I want to know his love for me deep down….

My boss finds me the other day at my workstation in the back of the warehouse, to bring me a gift card. He notices my eyes are wet. I tell him why (we go to church together). Says I, “Sometimes I just don’t know if God really loves me.” You can see now, it’s an issue.

So Job. Job is suffering a great deal. You know the story. He’s lost everything: his family (save his wife--and she’s no help) his wealth and his health. He’s in physical, emotional, mental and spiritual pain. I have been loathing my words to God: “Leave me alone.” People that murder tell others to get lost, but I have told God to get lost. People that curse God don’t command him to leave—they just scream at his ever-present face. But, I have asked God to leave me alone. What could be worse (So I thought)? I spend my lunch hour in prayer, asking God to be my Father, asking him for a sign. I've resorted to such measures as asking for a sign. Oh yes, the theologian, the exegete, the philosopher, the critical thinker, the "Scripture is sufficient" mantra. Asking for a sign from God!

Then I read these words of Job: “Therefore I will not restrain my mouth; I will speak in the anguish of my spirit; I will complain in the bitterness of my soul,” (7:11). Then verse 16: “Leave me alone, for my days are a breath.”

Leave me alone.” What? Have I read this right? Check the context. Is he talking to his friends? No, the context is that he is talking to God. “You scare me with dreams and terrify me with visions” (v.14). That’s God. “What is man that you make so much of him, and that you set your heart on him, visit him every morning and test him every moment?” (v.18). That’s God. “If I sin, what do I do to you, you watcher of mankind?” (v.20a). That’s definitely God. Ah!

The relief I feel is a wave of calm. My sin is not unique. My sin is not beyond forgiveness. I have this in common with Job. This is a good sign, right here in Scripture. The mantra holds.

Yes, I love you, he says. You are forgiven, and I love you. Never will I leave you, never will I forsake you. God does love me. He loves me and I love him. My Father loves me. I can say that. I can begin to feel that. Release.


willtolive said...

Without real doubt, there lack the faith!

Thanks for your struggle on paper...

Christine said...

Chris, almost six weeks ago I spent 2 hours in Korah.In the past I have suffered abuse, lost my mother at a young age, and endured many other painful experiences, but I never asked God "why?"
I did in Korah. Words will never be enough to descibe that agonizing, heart-wrenching experience.

Since my return from Ethiopia, I have gone through a number of, what might be considered attacks. The worst of these depression. I joke about needing three days of tears to wash the hurt away. I haven't had more than a few minutes.

Images of Korah have haunted my every day since back in the U.S. I have even had dreams of Korah.

Thank you for sharing your experience. Time and again I have been directed to Job. This time it was especially comforting. I appreciate this.

I have been in touch with Michael Halcomb and plan to join him and the team to Korah in May. Hope you will be there.

Again, thanks. Your thoughts have been encouraging, and I feel now that I am not alone with my thoughts of Korah.

Your sister in Christ,
Christine Friedrich

chris van allsburg said...

Thanks to both of you. Loving God as my Father really takes effort for me. I'm coming along!

Anonymous said...

How many of us have "told God off"? I know I have. Recently to be truthful. Am i worried? No. That would be commonplace and useless. Faith reappears for some instantly and for others it could be years.
I have a friend who is a priest. He lost all faith in God. He couldn't even say "God" for many years. Then something, that little spark of faith maybe.... brought him back to where he knew he should be.
Don't beat yourself up. You do the best that you can and from what I know of you, that's quite far above a lot of people.
Thank you for putting yourself out there. Always a great, thought provoking read.

chris van allsburg said...

Thanks Anonymous. I wish I knew who the hell you are! Lol.