Sometimes I wonder if God knows what he’s doing.
I wonder that right now, nearing the end of a summer in which funerals have been a more common occurrence in our family than weddings or graduation parties. When I last wrote, we’d experienced three deaths since May. We just had another family member pass this past weekend. Just as we’re all preparing for vacations to recover from a tough summer, we had another tragedy strike. It’s overwhelming. It’s all too much. I’m emotionally drained.
It’s hard for me to respond to the promises of prayer and the well-intentioned statements that God is in control, he still loves us, he has a plan and he’s a good father. As I sit here looking at a fourth family funeral to attend, those platitudes ring hollow. If God is in control, he can spare his children’s suffering. If he loves us, wouldn’t he want to do just that? If he has a plan, this seems like a pretty crappy plan. And what kind of good father would allow the suffering of the people who love him so much? It’s not that I’m doubting the existence of God; the timing of all these deaths feels too intentional for that. But I am wondering how the protective, loving God I was raised to believe in squares with a God who allows this sadness, with a timing that feels more capricious than benevolent.
I’m not supposed to say these things. I’m supposed to just respond that I know God is in control and that he works everything to his good. I’m supposed to be submissive to his will and defer to his plan, cheerfully and without complaint.
Or am I?
The truth is, I don’t believe God is cruel. I don’t believe he’s out of control, and I don’t believe he’s out to get us. Right now I’m hurting and angry. And if I have a relationship with God where he cares about me and wants me to love him with everything I am, that means I can’t respond with shallow platitudes and empty statements.
We tend to be overly analytical and unemotional when we talk about God, as if we’re afraid of saying something wrong to piss him off or we want to respect him enough to watch every word say. But how much love and trust does that really show?
If I’m afraid that an errant word will kindle God’s wrath, then aren’t I just believing in a temperamental God who isn’t forgiving and patient, but ready to strike down anyone who complains about him? And how much respect am I showing by covering up feelings and thoughts that I know he understands, only to keep a facade of faith when, internally, I’m crumbling?
Our sterility and piety in the face of real emotion, even when that emotion causes us to lash out in anger or doubt at God, is not just dishonest, it’s unbiblical. Scripture is deeply emotional. The Old Testament is often a shouting match between people who wonder where God has gone and a jilted creator wondering why his people betrayed him. Psalms is filled with just as many cries of anger, abandonment and frustration as it is verses of praise, faith and thanksgiving. The night before his death, Jesus himself in a gut-wrenching, physically exhausting wrestling match with the Father about his plans. Getting angry at God, right or not, is a human response. It’s to be expected in relationship. And it’s often beyond our control.
But we serve a God who is big enough to take our questions, patient enough to endure our anger, and secure enough to put up with our accusations. We’re made in the image of a God who is not just personal, but emotional. The expectation that we check our emotions at the door and placidly accept God’s ways without tears, curses or confusion is a culture creation to make sure we don’t rock the boat or make the faith product look bad. But it’s not a biblical concept.
I trust God. I trust that he is good and patient. Because of that, I’m able to be honest with my emotions and questions. I can take my frustrations to him and I know that he’s listening patiently. And when I’ve screamed myself hoarse and exhausted every last tear, he’ll patiently teach me what he needs to, restore my soul and take me to a deeper place of trust with him. When we trust him with our emotions and our fears, our walk with him is ultimately much deeper, despite temporary estrangements or the silent treatments we give him. To just accept shallow platitudes because they give us a moment of respite prevents us from going deeper with him.