A man I know has grappled his entire life with self-hatred. And like salt in the wound, he has absorbed a notion which has only served to exacerbate all the suffering. Once, he told me, “I don’t feel like I’m allowed to express any pain over how bad I hurt inside, because I’m a sinner and so anything I’m suffering is my fault anyway. That makes me angry, but then I think ‘I can’t be mad at God because being mad at Him suggests that He did something wrong, and since He’s never wrong, it’s wrong for me to be angry at Him.'”
Many of us, like my friend, are walking bottles of pain and frustration sometimes, terrified that if any of it gets seen by God, He will nail us.
Scripture, however, seems to point to another way of dealing with our anger and frustration. It tells us the story of another man who suffered deeply: Job.
Job, as we all know, suffered horribly. Loss of property, family, health and all comfort are his lot in life. But what we may not know is that Job is a guy who doesn’t pull his punches in venting the full force of his anguish at God. This may be one reason we don’t hear him quoted all that much. Mostly we get the occasional aphorism (“Man was born to suffer as the sparks fly upward.”) or pious remark (“The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.”) and then we buzz past 40-odd chapters so we can plop down at the “He lived happily every after” ending.
Why do we breeze past all the punchy stuff? Because Job is shocking. He tells God to leave him alone (Job 7:16). He demands to know why God spends so much time staring at him and pestering him (“How long wilt thou not look away from me, nor let me alone till I swallow my spittle?” (Job 7:19)). He straightforwardly tells God he is innocent and complains that he must appeal to his accuser (Job 9:15). He flatly declares that God hurts him without cause (Job 9:17).
To which we reply, “He can’t say that, can he? I thought Bible characters weren’t allowed to talk like that!” Nor are we alone in such shock. Job’s friends also remind Job repeatedly that we must always and only say Good Correct Things about God. In fact, their form of “comfort” for Job as he writhes in agony looks remarkably like the sort of thing my friend thought he had to believe. They tell Job that everything he is suffering is, of course, his fault and that it probably serves him right. They tell him if he dares to complain or cry aloud, then God will give him his comeuppance for being uppity. They express repeated shock when Job protests he is suffering innocently.
Yet the amazing thing is, when the story is all over God twice tells the Good Correct Friends “My wrath is kindled against you and your two friends; for you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has” (Job 42:7, 8) In fact, the Lord designates Job to intercede for his Good Correct Friends, saying He will accept Job’s prayer not to deal with his friends according to their “folly” (Job 42:8).
So what did Job (who rails at God for 42 chapters) do that was so right and his friends (who said All the Right Things) do that was so wrong?
The difference, I think, is this: In all the anguished conversation between Job and his Goody Two Shoes Pals, there is only one character who actually talks to God: Job.
The friends talk about God. They talk about abstractions like righteousness. They give their well-developed theories about how Justice Can’t Be Denied and cluck at Job that His Sin Has Found Him Out and so forth. They have well-developed theological theories about all sorts of stuff.
But they never talk to God.
Job, in the meantime, spends 42 chapters being real with God. Sure, he yells at God to go away and leave him alone. Sure, he screams in frustration at God and these jerks who won’t let an anguished man scrape his boils in peace. Sure he calls God unjust. What do we expect? The man is in anguish! But what he does is far more important than what he says: he stays with God. In contrast, his friends blab about theology, but they do not go near God. They prefer to yak about their measly little ideas and kick a bitterly wounded man when he is down rather than bring their piddly little theories before God and see Job’s suffering for what it is: the awful anguish of a righteous man.
Sometime after Job encountered his difficulties, another righteous man destined for awful anguish told a little story. He said a man had two sons; and he went to the first and said, “Son, go and work in the vineyard today.” And the son answered, “I will not”; but afterward he repented and went. And the man went to the second and said the same; and the second son answered, “I go, sir,” but did not go. “Which of the two,” asked Jesus, “did the will of his Father?” (Matthew 21:28-31).
Job, for all his yelling and kvetching and saying terribly impolite things to God, did the will of his Father. He bawled out “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” for 42 chapters, but he stayed. Like the Son of God whom he images, he speaks the truth about himself and his anguish to God and to his neighbor–and is paid the awful compliment of suffering with Christ, of being raised, in fact, to a prophetic foreshadow of Christ.
For that is, in the end, what faith means: you stay. You remain with God, not as a mouse or a worm or a conquered slave, but as His precious Son. For the line of reasoning which says “I’m sinful, so I’m not allowed to hurt or complain” is false, plain and simple. You are not just sinful. You are not even basically sinful. You are basically a redeemed creation of God and God hates the sin because it hurts you, whom He loves, just as the father of a drug addict hates heroin because of what it does to his precious child. You can’t hurt God’s feelings. You can only hurt yourself by acting inauthentically, like Job’s Happy Face Friends. All the screeching and kvetching in the book of Job is proof of that. God, so far from telling you to sit down and shut up, is the very fire within that impels you to speak, even if it is to speak a complaint. He is with you–Emmanuel–not against you. God’s love for you can’t be harmed by you speaking authentically to him. Nor can it, in the end, be thwarted from achieving a glory in and through you that you may not now be able to imagine–if you stay with Him on the Way. But the way to that glory is honesty, not happy talk and not guilt trips. Jesus Crucified is the Way and the Truth. And if He and Job can speak to God in full-throated honesty, so can you. If God can’t take it, who can?