Hit God with Your Best Shot
Mark 7: 24-30
What’s the maddest you have ever been? When, if you were a cartoon, steam would have come erupting out of your ears? I’m going to hazard a guess that, though some of these things might make you angry, the time you have been the angriest probably wasn’t about terrorism, poverty, or injustice. At least not in the abstract. I suspect that if it included any of those things, it was one such instance, a specific interaction, or a certain person who made you angry. Some place where the rubber met the road, where you had a stake in what was happening, someone you loved a lot.
In fact, think of the people who are most important to you in life. Can you think of a single one with whom you have never had a fight or been on exasperatingly opposite sides of an important issue? When you don’t love someone or some place or something, you don’t care enough to get mad at them or on their behalf. Elie Wiesel, the writer, professor, and the Holocaust survivor, is quoted as saying, “The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference” (http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/authors/e/elie_wiesel.html). While hatred and anger can have some overlap, they are not the same thing. But it’s a food-for-thought kind of quote and he points out so well how we can get confused about what’s going on with our emotions.
Christians do this a lot. There seems to be a real discomfort with anger in some of our circles. As if caring enough to be blowing our tops is just a little too much love and care for Christians to exhibit. That can’t be right. You know the story about Jesus turning over the tables in the temple when he sees moneychangers operating there (Mt. 21:12-13)? I can’t tell you the number of times I have sat discussing this passage with nervous Nellie Christians who absolutely cannot abide an angry Jesus. The contortions some will go through in order to read that passage in such a way that Jesus is calm, collected, and not even miffed is impressive, if misguided.
I hope you aren’t feeling nervous today because I am here to suggest that, in order to have a real, loving relationship with God you have to be willing to be angry with God. I’m not saying that’s the only way we show our love or demonstrate our relationship, but if we put a cap on it and stop all emotions in that area when it comes to God, then it’s not a real relationship.
One of my seminary professors, Roberta Bondi, liked to talk about “kitchen table time” with God. When you are at home with your family or spending time somewhere with close friends, there are the normal, non-spectacular times, like sitting together at the kitchen table and talking after the meal. Or sitting at the table talking to your mom or dad or grandparent while they prepare something. You know those times? Roberta Bondi’s point was that in order to have a real relationship with God you have to spend time with God – just like when you have a real relationship with someone you love. If you never talk or sit together or spend time doing anything together with your best friend, how long do you think you’d still be best friends? Real relationships – as opposed to acquaintance-ships – require time together, even ordinary, everyday, non-spectacular, nothing-much-happening time at the kitchen table. Roberta Bondi talks about prayer as kitchen table time with God, remembering that in order to be in a real relationship we actually have to spend time with God.
Another thing about real relationships is that you can be your whole self with that person. If you are feeling lonely or tired or scared you can share that with a good friend and find comfort. If you are feeling celebratory and jubilant, a good friend joins the party with you. And when you are feeling angry, a good friend is there to help you fight back or process the feelings or make a change. In a real relationship, you aren’t required to be one way all the time – you get to bring your whole self and you get to experience the “whole self” of the other person, too.
Think about a time when you had a big, blow-out fight with someone. What happened during the argument? What happened afterwards? Strong relationships don’t crumble because of arguments. Usually they get stronger. Relationships with God are like this, too. When you are angry with God, in order to “keep it real,” you have to get yourself to the kitchen table and have it out.
If you still need proof that it’s OK, look at the scripture we read tonight. The woman comes in desperate need, asking for healing for her daughter. And Jesus tells her he hasn’t come to help her. In a horrible, rude statement Jesus tells her that it’s not fair to give the children’s food to the dogs. I don’t know if the woman was angry right then. I don’t know if she felt injured but the insult. But she has a mission to get healing for her daughter and she doesn’t take Jesus’ statement as the final word. She talks back. She argues with him, using his own words and logic. She says, Fine. Then if we are dogs, you have to recognize that even the dogs get to eat up the crumbs that fall underneath the table while the children are being fed. And when Jesus, who was so sure of his plan and that she wasn’t in it, hears this argument he has a complete change of mind. Because this woman has the temerity and gumption to argue with Jesus, he changes his mind and he heals her daughter.
I’m not suggesting that you need a certain quota of angry-with-God days in life. But I am suggesting that there will be times – if you haven’t experienced them already – when you are annoyed, peeved, aggrieved, or fightin’ mad with God. And I’m bringing it up now because this scripture is a great how-to for expressing disagreement and anger with God.
And, because it helps to see how it can be done, here is another example I want to show you, from the TV show The West Wing. For those who never watched it, The West Wing was a drama about President Bartlett and his staff. In this episode, it has recently come to light that when he was running for office he did not disclose that he has Multiple Sclerosis, so he is about to face the music on that front. A few months before this, Josh, one of the president’s top aides (like a son to him) was shot during an assassination attempt. And now, his beloved secretary, whom he has known since he was in high school, was in a fatal car accident on her way home in a brand new car. A lot has hit the fan in a short time and here we are right after the funeral service for his secretary in the National Cathedral.
[PLAY CLIP: “Two Cathedrals,” The West Wing, Season 2; at approx. 22 mins-25 mins]
Maybe you have to be anti-nervous Nellie and an English major to enjoy someone calling God a “feckless thug.” Regardless, I think this is one of the best examples of bringing your whole self to God, whether what you are angry about is God’s fault or not – or whether you even know. In the emotional, spiritual state Bartlett is in during this scene, what could be more real than basically letting it all hang out to God? In Latin, Bartlett really lets God have it, saying things like, “Am I to believe these things from a righteous God, a just God, a wise God? …I was your servant, your messenger on the earth; I did my duty. To hell with your punishments! And to hell with you! (literally, “may you go to a cross”)” (http://westwing.bewarne.com/discontinuity/languages.html#Latin).
Where else would we want him to go with all this, except to God?
We were not created to be sycophants, fawning “yes men” for God. We were created to be companions, to travel alongside and keep company with God, to sit around the kitchen table together and get real. And, sometimes, to yell at God in God’s house or any other place we find ourselves.
God wants to hear from you, even in your most agitated, aggrieved, soul-wracked, anger-filled moments. Maybe you already get angry and argue with God when you need to. If you do, maybe you can help those of us still learning how to do this. Who knows? Maybe you are the next one to change God’s mind. At the very least, you can be in a more real relationship with God and not just a “Sunday best” acquaintance-ship.
Go ahead, get real. Give God your best shot. Really. God can take it.
Thanks be to God!
©2012 Deborah E. Lewis