It seems that from our very youngest days we have developed the habit of asking “Why?” Our young, inquiring minds need to learn the explanation for everything we see and hear, and even for the absence of some things and people from our lives. As an almost natural progression we apply the law of cause and effect to incidents and events in our lives. We have a compulsion to identify good things as happening because … and equally, bad things as happening because … and we fill in the gaps with the names of people, governmental agencies, the quirks of nature and/or God.
It is very strange that so few people attribute the good, pleasant and happy circumstances in their lives to God. Instead to God are ascribed all hurtful things which happen to us as individuals or to others. “God, why did you let this happen?” is a frequent comment from many in distress. In fact, if we were to be honest and list those events we truly believe God could or should have prevented occurring, we would be surprised to discover we do have a string of events for which we choose to censure God. When I started thinking about events that have occurred during my lifetime, which just maybe God could have prevented, I totaled two pages of complaints. I really needed to sort out my own thinking, my own need to point a finger or attribute blame, before I could let go of these hidden wounds and enjoy a healthy mindset. Why do I, why do any of us, choose to vent our anger and frustration on God? Today I’d like to share with you my own journey as I dealt with this unresolved anger against God.
First I re-read all the complaints I had directed at God, and discovered that none of them dealt with events that impacted on my own life, rather all dealt with social justice issues. Did I not have any unresolved issue in my life? I took stock of my life, almost as a casual observer, and though there were many periods in which I knew pain, isolation and betrayal, all these had become keys that opened up my life to greater experiences of God and to wider areas of ministry. There is no unresolved anger or bitterness in my life because in bringing my every moment into God’s presence in prayer, I am continually healed by God’s balm.
To the list I returned, deciding to group my concerns into various baskets of similar concerns. Into the first basket I put issues related to abuse of power by those in authority including denial of social and medical benefits or full justice to the poor, marginalised groups, indigenous peoples, gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender people.
In the next basket are the issues which relate to selfishness and greed – stockpiling of foodstuffs while over half the world’s people are starving, profiteering and theft of foodstuffs donated by aid projects, and dictators amassing power by the subjugation of their own people and the people of neighbouring countries.
Products of war are contained in the next basket – the atrocities committed by the Third Reich, the bloodbaths in Rwanda, Kosova, Ireland and Indonesia and now in Palestine and Israel. Also included are the plight of women and girls raped during warfare, and children being impressed into armies.
The final basket contains the issues of exclusion: churches that have shut out people because they fear all who are different. Those different ones include those excluded by gender identity, racial identity, poverty, physical or intellectual disabilities. Within those same churches there is gender exclusion of women from positions of authority or from decision-making committees – such as being elders or priests. Many areas of employment are closed to those deemed to be unsuitable because of their gender identity, and some families close out those members who do not lead “normal” lives.
These baskets contained the pain and suffering of others, those things which cause us to exclaim that “life just isn’t fair.” But then again, who ever promised us that life was fair, that fate’s cards would be dealt honestly, with none emerging from the bottom of the pack? Realistically, nothing I could do would change events that had already occurred, but my anger had to be diffused. Finally I carted all these baskets into God’s presence and asked my Parent to take care of them, as I no longer could afford to wear these injustices like the proverbial albatross hanging around my neck. In my heart I knew, and so to God I acknowledged, that every episode of pain and fragmentation contained in those baskets had been the work of humanity. Then I asked God what I could do to transform my anger into a passion to address human rights abuses. And God asked me if I would serve the needs of all who were hurting.
As a lesbian priest I hear the pain in the voices of my community as society refuses to acknowledge our cry for justice and equality. In my body I sense the physical blows that are directed at my brothers and sisters by those who believe that they have the right to abuse us violently. I hear the cries of those who are affected by life-threatening diseases such as cancer and AIDS, and their voices asking for an explanation as to why God allows such cruel medical conditions. As a human I need to find a reason for every violation of the rights of people to live in a world where there is sufficient to eat, enough medical resources in every village and city, and a lasting peace. When my logical mind cannot make sense of humanity’s power games and selfishness, when I can find neither reason nor excuses for such behaviour, I have tended to berate God for the mess humanity has created. And herein lies the clue to every dilemma with which we are faced, it is humanity – you, me and the rest of us – who have created the chaos this planet endures. Sure, God could reach down like Superman and stop speeding cars and run-away trains. But to do so would violate and annul God’s specific gift to each of us – free will. While we may easily recognise unwise choices that result in cars exceeding the speed limit, we may well ask what diseases such as cancer have to do with free will. I believe the diseases to which we are subject exist in direct relationship to the conditions we, as humans, have created.
With the gift of free will God enables us to mature as adults, capable of making wise and life-sustaining choices. We choose to eat or to go without; in countries ravaged by famine we find adults who give their children all available food, and keep none for themselves. We choose whether to sleep a reasonable number of hours, to party all night or to keep prayer vigils. Likewise we may choose to blame God for every misfortune that comes our way, or we may look more closely at the events that have impacted on our lives. We can choose to believe the lie that God’s face is turned away from all GLBT people, or we may discover that as we pray God is still there, still loving us as our Parent. Let the blame fall where the lie is perpetuated, on the shoulders of those people, organizations and churches that have sought to keep us as “the other,” separated from our rightful relationship with God.
We know that it is the fears conjured up by ignorance and intolerance that often cause family members to slam the door in our faces and exclude us from their lives. Yet so often it is easier for us to apportion blame to God, rather than becoming involved in a process of education for heterosexuals so that the myths about homosexuals may be debunked. We know that every cent we spend on total self-indulgence could be directed to agencies whose dedicated work provides food and industries within communities in third world countries. We are aware that when we shut our ears to the demands for justice from not only indigenous peoples, but also from those whose lands have been invaded by power-hungry despots, we perpetuate their misery. If we really are passionate about issues of social justice, it is to God we turn to hear just what part we may play in bringing the reality of the Dominion of God into the lives of people right across the globe.
Angry with God? Surely we are – for however long it takes us to bring the incidents that have exacerbated our anger into God’s presence, being prepared to abandon our role as helpless observer and assume the responsibility of being a servant, as Christ was a servant, of humanity.
Rev. Vera I. Bourne of Lismore, N.S.W., Australia, served as Outreach Clergy at Christs Community Church.