I think we concentrate a bit too much on how we feel and a bit too little on what we’re meant to do. Most of the time, God doesn’t call us to feel good about how He is running the world but to play the part He has for us.
There is a time to be angry with God. The Bible says so: Job told God he wasn’t being fair and, Scripture says, he told the truth. In the early eighties, I was one of the first full-time staff members at the Gay Men’s Health Crisis in New York. We didn’t know what caused AIDS and we had no idea about how to manage it. Most people would only come up to someone with HIV dressed in full contamination suits. I saw lots of decent, caring gay men die horrible, painful, isolated deaths. I knew many as devoted volunteers before they became clients. Like Job they had a right to be angry with God. (So, by the way, did the drug users, the prostitutes and all the others).
Today, I do a lot of work in Africa. I see women dying of HIV and more worried about what will happen to their children than about their own deaths. Most are Bible- believing, trusting, devout Christians. I’ve never heard one rage at God but I’m sure He has.
They have every right to be angry but I’m not sure that I have the right to be angry on their behalf. I’m not even sure “right” is the correct bit of vocabulary. Back in 1983, I was frightened, confused and doubting. I’m sure God understood. I did a few of the things I was called to do and failed to do many more. God even understood that.
Today, I still don’t understand how this all-loving King of Creation can allow so many to suffer for so long and to die in such pain and fear. I don’t understand why Robert Mugabe, the President of Zimbabwe, and his plane don’t crash in a fiery inferno while he’s on one of his state-funded shopping trips to Europe. I don’t understand why so many HIV-positive Zimbabweans can’t have mysterious air drops of food and simple painkillers from angelic aircraft. Of course, I also don’t understand how God can keep calling and caring for me despite all of the times when I don’t hear, don’t listen or don’t care.
Being angry with God would be convenient. After all, if He’s to blame and if He’s in the wrong then it takes the heat off me. I have my new car, my digital TV subscription and my new bathroom floor but, hey, suffering and starvation are God’s problems so I’m just angry — comfortable, safe, rich and angry but angry.
While I’m at it, I might as well be angry about the fact that not all Christians agree with me and most of the erring ones haven’t been zapped yet. One quick thunderbolt centred on Pat Robertson, a heavenly explanation boomed out over the smoldering ashes and the fundamentalists would soon fall into line. Another one through Bishop Spong and the liberals would stop doubting the Bible (Spong seems a nice guy so maybe just a few really nasty boils would get the message across). God has graciously consented to the one anti-gay deacon at my church becoming very ill so that fortunately I don’t have to go and talk to her before my membership gets approved. This makes me a bit less angry with Him than I might otherwise be.
We get angry with God because He doesn’t organise things the way we would. Of course, the way we would organise things would be an unmitigated disaster (indeed, preferring our way of running things to His is how we got into this mess of a fallen world). But we know, don’t we, that it’s feelings that matter even if the thinking behind them is, well, not really thinking at all (after all, Oprah and our psychotherapy-centred culture tell us so)
Instead of this feeling of anger (or after it or in moments of clarity during it), I wish I could remember the three great values of the Bible.
For some reason I will never understand this side of glory, God has revealed himself to me. I’m certainly less worthy than the ex-prostitute in the scriptures who first found out that Jesus was alive is. I’ve never been stoned to death or fed to wild animals or driven into the desert but, like those early saints, I’ve been given a faith that rests on actual encounters with the living Lord.
So does it matter that our last visiting minister was convinced that just being gay was a sin? Does it matter that some Christians in the British parliament are campaigning flat-out to keep anti-gay laws? Well, yes it does. It matters because my experience of God’s will is that they are not simply wrong but are doing great damage by caricaturing the Lord as some sex-obsessed old closet case more interested in poppers and lube than justice and the fate of the poor. When Mary spoke out about her discovery of the empty tomb, she was ridiculed and could well have been killed. If I spoke out a bit more about mine, I might have a few uncomfortable discussions.
The Bible tells us that some of our suffering is meant to harden our faith. What kind of parent would not correct a child doing something dangerous or cruel the Bible asks? Not a loving parent like God. Scripture tells us that God is like a mother eagle who teaches her young to fly. Sometimes that means she has to edge us out of the nest.
Through plagues, disasters and ruin, Job knew that some day he would see God f ace-to-face. The promise to us is that our walk with Jesus guarantees a place at God’s side as a child of the Kingdom. If we really believed this, nothing else would matter. Like the apostle Paul, we would think that life meant a chance to keep on spreading the good news and death meant an early entry to eternity. More immediately, Scripture promises that we will have the resources we need for whatever we face (our strength shall be as our days). The Bible tells us (as that self-same anti-gay visiting minister pointed out during a different visit to my church) that God keeps our tears in a bottle but puts our sins into a bag and throws them to the depths of the sea. If this God is on our side, it doesn’t matter who is against us.
This hope is not only an impenetrable defence against the gay haters; it is something we are obliged to share. Good Christians are being unwittingly used by Satan to drive others away from the faith. Most obviously (to us), it is the crowd who say you can’t be gay and be saved. Sadly, it’s also those who say you can’t have a deeply held belief in the unique value of heterosexual marriage and still exhibit Christian compassion. Just think, what if we accepted that we all see glimpses of the truth in the hazy distance and that we may all see different bits? What if we agreed about what really matters? One day we will not only see all of the truth but we will get to know the source of truth. As GLBT people, we should at least be telling this life-changing thing to the people we alone can reach — our community.
The Bible sets out the entry test for heaven. (I only wish my driving test had been as predictable.) Did you feed the hungry? Did you clothe the naked? Did you visit the sick and those in prison? Did you love other people as much as you loved yourself? I’ve heard lots of sermons on these touchy-feely bits. The preachers usually say that you must not love money more than God and you must do your bit for charity. It’s not often that you hear anyone preach on the story of Lazarus and the rich man (Luke 16:19-31): Abraham is looking after a pauper in heaven and shouts across the great ditch to a rich man in hell. He tells him that he had his rewards on earth; heaven is reserved for those like homeless, sore-covered, starving Lazarus. The rich man begs Abraham to send someone to warn the man’s five equally rich brothers. Abraham says the prophets already have. The rich man tells Abraham that his brothers would listen to someone who rose from the dead. Abraham says they wouldn’t. History has proved Abraham right. The Bible is clear — being rich while others are very poor is a big problem, however it makes us feel. By world standards, anyone with a computer is rich.
We can’t stop volcanoes erupting, hurricanes hitting or viruses mutating. But, if we felt like it, we could build shelters for the displaced and we could build hospitals and hospices for the suffering. Of course, we usually don’t. No Western country spends even one percent of its total wealth on assistance to the developing world. The US spends $6 billion a year on arms export subsidies but much less than $1 billion on HIV in Africa. Things are worse in France and the UK. Why do we let this happen? Because we’re selfish, disobedient and deluded participants in a sinful world order. Somehow, we think BMWs (and new Christian CDs, for that matter) are more important than the hungry, the naked, the prisoners and the sick. You know all that stuff about sinners in need of a saviour? It’s absolutely true but God is talking about money and power and how we use them not your last one-night stand.
When I failed my driving test, I had to go back to practising reversing around corners and all of the other bizarre things we have to do to get a licence in Britain. Thank God, the post-Jesus era in the Kingdom is different. God knows we will fail the entry test to heaven but he’s fixed it so we get in anyway.
People in trouble will get angry with God. Remember Job who screamed and shouted at God despite his horrified friends and neighbours. In the end, God arrived to answer Job’s charges and Job agreed that he could not understand God’s ways through the fog that surrounds this life. God, though, did not condemn Job for his anger. He condemned Job’s friends who said that Job must have done something to deserve his sorrows. Anger at God is fine with God. But it’s not terribly helpful. And, since most of us have not lived through what Job lived through, it’s not really very well directed.
Anger with ourselves, with our misguided lives and our Satanically-inspired society might change the way we behave. That would help fix the world that made us so angry in the first place.