Job 21 – God Loves You Even When You’re Angry

“Is my complaint directed to a human being?
    Why should I not be impatient?
Look at me and be appalled;
    clap your hand over your mouth.
When I think about this, I am terrified;
    trembling seizes my body.
(Read the rest of the chapter, here.)

I saw a post in the Progressive Christians group I’m a part of on Facebook a few days ago that just broke my heart.  The writer said they had left Christianity in their youth, and spent a lot of time very angry at God, openly mocking the religion, Jesus, and God Xyrself.  The writer was worried that, even though they had returned to Christianity, they may have said things that were irredeemable, and that God would not welcome them back into the fold.

This is the damage that overbearing, fire-and-brimstone, purity-culture churches do to people.  These churches manage to obscure and pervert the most consistent messages of the Bible: God’s unending forgiveness, God’s bottomless love.  God so wanted us to be with Xyr that Xe sent Xyr only son to earth to make that happen.  (Perhaps the two most important blog posts I’ve ever written, you can read why this happened, and why I now believe in universal reconciliation, here and here.)  This love does not come with a bunch of conditions, or is offered to only a few, it is freely offered to anyone, even those who have committed the most heinous of sins.  So yes, God will still love the writer mentioned above even after their words of anger, because God loves us when we’re angry.

I mention this story because Job is clearly angry in today’s reading.  And not just vaguely angry – angry at God.  Everybody makes such a big deal about Job never cursing God through all his trials, but he comes pretty damn close in this passage when he says: “It is said, ‘God stores up a man’s punishment for his sons.’ Let him repay the man himself, so that he will know it!”  In other words, “What the fuck, God?”  Basically all of verses 17-21 are a rhetorical challenge to God on his dealings with wicked men (and their innocent children).  Job is clearly wrestling with the idea that God is a just judge when so many wicked men prosper at the same time an innocent man, such as himself, is so heavily burdened.

Job speaks truth when he says “Can anyone teach knowledge to God, since he judges even the highest?”  It is dissatisfying to say the least, but we don’t know the whole picture, as God does.  Perhaps sometime in the afterlife it will “all make sense,” but I must admit that’s pretty weak comfort right now.  I did, however, come across an analogy that may help it be a little easier to bear (I’m sorry I can’t remember where! Contact me and I’ll happily credit it!):  Imagine two men are sentenced to breaking rocks (a là prison yard work) for a year. It’s hard, hot, dusty, monotonous work.  Yet one man knows he’s getting a million dollars at the end of his year, the other man just thinks the drudgery will finally be over.  The work isn’t any different for the two men, but their attitudes are going to be markedly different.  Having faith in God doesn’t make the bad things go away, or mean we don’t have to do the hard things, but it helps us put them in perspective, and hopefully make them a little easier to bear.

That being said, we’re still going to get angry, it’s in our nature.  We may even get angry at God.  But if we view God as our parent, as we are taught to do over and over by Jesus and other passages in the Bible, then we know that God will continue to love us even when we are angry.  My youngest is almost three, and she gets angry at me all the time.  Sometimes I get angry back (especially if she’s trying to hit me or bite me), but most of the time I’m understanding because I know she’s just tired, or frustrated, or has more feels than her little toddler self can handle.  And in those times that I do get angry back at her, I don’t stop loving her, and I’m always ready to forgive her and give her a snuggle when she cools down.  Imagine all of that, but raised to the magnitude of God.

I hope you’re not angry with God, but  I certainly understand if you are.  And I apologize, on behalf of the broadest definition of Christianity, if the faith traditions you were raised in have anything to do with you being angry with God.  At the risk of annoying you further, please know that God loves you, as you are.  God wants you to heal and turn back to Xyr (however you may now comprehend the idea of “God”), but do it at your own pace.  If there’s a third truth we can learn from the Bible today, God is never one to rush things, even if we wish Xe did.  God will not rush you, but will always be there, waiting for you, because God loves you, exactly as you are right now.

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Job 20 – Reconciliation is Dead Part 2: Joining the Broader Fight

17 He will not enjoy the streams,
    the rivers flowing with honey and cream.
18 What he toiled for he must give back uneaten;
    he will not enjoy the profit from his trading.
(Read the rest of the chapter, here.)

Zophar tells of all the wicked man will be forced to do: his own hands must give back his wealth, he will spit out the riches he has swallowed, when he has filled his belly, God will vent his burning anger against him.  I like Zophar’s latest speech better than Eliphaz’s recent one because it more fully acknowledges the greedy, opulent, and oppressive nature of the proverbial “wicked man.”  Of course we must remember that Zophar is implying that Job’s fortune was the “mirth of the wicked” and “joy of the godless.”  In Zophar’s mind, it wouldn’t have been taken away from Job if it hadn’t been so. As such, we must take Zophar’s words with a grain of salt.  But it still leaves me wondering, as I continue to ponder the phrase “reconciliation is dead,” is it appropriate for us to be agents of God’s anger, and if so, how would we go about doing it?

As a reminder, this is a blog about finding Biblical evidence of God’s radical love for all.  And I think it might be time – past time, really – for some tough love.  Let me fall back on a parenting analogy:  I try corrective behavior as much as possible in my house, trying to redirect frustration away from hitting and pinching when I see those little hands start to raise.  But sometimes, no amount of redirect is going to keep one sister from hitting the other, and the only recourse is a time out.  A swift, unceremonious scooping up of a child any way I can grab them, plopping them in their room, and shutting the door.  Talking comes later, after they calm down and aren’t a slappy, bite-y threat to the other one.  Perhaps a collective time out is needed for certain people, organizations, and governments, as well – and that gets me back to the call to action listed in this article (the same one mentioned in Part 1 of this series).

To recap: this article was written by native people for native people, at a time when First Nations in Canada are blockading railways and otherwise disrupting the economy in an effort to protect their unceded homelands from being stolen for pipelines and infrastructure that would be environmentally and culturally damaging.  There is no love lost in it for the Canadian government, and it’s outright anarchist in passages.  As I’ve said before, I still urge you to read it. It contains some very salient points that, if we are to stay true to Jesus’ message of love and stewardship, I think we are called to do as Christians.  Of course, these apply primarily to the land reclamation and defense movements going on but I think these points can also inform our larger role of Progressive Christian Activists.  Let’s examine them:

  1. Change the rules, breaking them if necessary.  The Wet’suwet’en have exhausted all other outlets for peaceably and legally challenging these land grabs.  The greed and destruction they are fighting against is wrong, so I fully support their “illegal” actions.  Remember, just because it’s legal doesn’t make it right.  Didn’t we have a whole civil rights movement in this country to change the laws oppressing black citizens?  Remember that?  I don’t see thoughtful law-breaking as anarchy, I see it as fairness in action.  So let’s support these rail blockades, and look closely at the laws governing the lives of women, minorities, immigrants, children…are they fair? If not, maybe it’s time we stop following them.
  2. Widen our scope. The article talks about dreaming big – past just blocking the pipelines and into full reclamation of land and indigenous governing structures replacing the Canadian state.  I’ll admit, my knee-jerk reactions are “that’s impractical” and also “how many lives would that negatively impact?”  But what if we lean into that dream?  We need to shake off this image we have of red savages circling the wagons of innocent white folk.  No one is going to scalp us if  we actually start meeting these revolutionaries halfway, and truly figure out ways to: reduce and improve government, turning more of it over to local councils; encourage landowners to return that land to native stakeholders (I’m particularly thinking about farmland that would otherwise be bought by developers, and parks and public spaces that are the current responsibility of government); and just generally put more ecologically and culturally sensitive practices into place in white society.  All of these efforts would benefit not just native society, but broader society as well.  I’m not going to lie – we as white people are going to have to put a lot of good faith efforts out there to start this ball rolling, as we as white people have a long history of broken treaties and unfulfilled promises.  And that’s going to take some courage on our part.
  3. Unity. Again, this article was written by native people for native people, so its focus was on infighting and backstabbing between different nations.  But I’m going to go ahead and give the same strongly worded sentiments to women more or less in my situation (white, middle class) who refuse to pull the wool from over their eyes, like the neighbor up the road with a giant “Women for Trump” flag in her front yard.  Why, ladies, do you keep voting men into power that do not have your best interest at heart?  Men who lie, men who abuse women, men who rape the earth for their own gain?  I can forgive you your first vote for Trump, or McConnell, or whoever…but can you not now see the depths of their depravity? I know many of you are one issue voters who are only interested in seeing that abortion bans are put in place and upheld…but please, do not let that one issue blind you to the children – the same children you are so desperate to support when they’re in the womb – that they are hurting at the border, in reservations, in economically disadvantaged families.  If you would but stop and look, you have more in common with the Wet’suwet’en than you do with the oppressive men in power.  Please, I pray, that you recognize it.
  4. Prepare for a battlefield with multiple fronts – The author of the above article ends with a call for settlers to not fall into tired solidarity traps.  I hope I haven’t, and I’m encouraged by their call to fight parallel battles towards the same goal.  I stand with Wet’suwet’en, but I’m not standing idly by.  I’m looking around my own little community and seeing what needs to be done, teaching my own children the way they should treat the world, and the way they should demand it to be treated.  Doing the same with your children is an act of resistance.  So is reclaiming spaces where you are underrepresented or flat out discouraged (yay @accessibleyoga @queerswhofarm and @blackgirlstrekkin for just three examples of such initiatives on Instagram); interrupting the cradle to prison pipeline through education and restorative justice efforts; supporting ecological initiatives in your community (the plastic bag bans in certain states are just the tip of the iceberg); and just continuing to speak up, speak out, and create alliances with like-minded people whenever possible.

I want to close with some words from the original article (which again, you can read in full at the link above): “Being determined and sure is not the same as being unafraid. There are many dangerous days ahead of us. It is dangerous to say, ‘I will not obey.’ ” It is, and there is no guarantee that, even if we are the ones proverbially putting those currently in power in time out, that we will live to see the “fate God allots the wicked” which Zophar so illustratively describes in this chapter of Job.  But even if I don’t see all the changes that I hope and dream for in my lifetime, I want to at least make it a little better for my girls, and they’ll make it a little better for their kids, and so on down the line.  But none of that is going to happen if we don’t start working for it, now.  The battle cry has been issued: reconciliation is dead.  Let it be our invitation to join the fight.

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Book Review: Acts of Forgiveness

I was excited to be tapped to review Ted Karpf’s new book, Acts of Forgiveness, as the offer came right as I was searching for non-majority voices in Christianity.  An Episcopalian priest and a gay man, Karpf was on the front lines of the HIV/AIDS epidemic both in the States and South Africa, providing compassionate pastoral care at a time when people were gripped by fear.  This memoir documents that time and more: following the author’s journey to acceptance and forgiveness.

What I find so compelling about this book is that Karpf does not shy away from showing us his uphill climb – truly, his ongoing struggle – with acceptance and forgiveness.  Karpf has lost what he thought would be his retirement home, was unceremoniously removed from a fulfilling and influential position in the church, and been left by his long-time partner, among other losses. Some of these are more recent and some not so, but it is evident that Karpf still acutely feels the hurt that each loss brought.  Yet through prayer, therapy, and wise mentorship, Karpf has found ways to accept and forgive.  It makes for some honest, if sometimes uncomfortable, reading.

If forgiveness is something you struggle with (don’t we all?), then I particularly recommend chapter two, appropriately titled “Forgiveness and Loving.” When asking Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s advice on how to pray for his ex, the archbishop’s response was “until you love him.”  Karpf tells us:

I was again flummoxed and frustrated. I had no inclination to pray for him; I wanted him to disappear.  So that prayer took nearly a decade to pray as well, during which I often had to ask myself, “Is there anyone or anything unforgivable?”  I must respond, if I am to remain faithful to scripture, my faith, and experience, “Probably not. No, nothing and no one is beyond forgiveness, but learning to accept that fact, and gain the stamina and will it takes to do it, may take a lifetime.”

Later in the chapter, Karpf reveals the cyclical and spiraling nature of forgiveness, a message received with his natal chart reading.  “You must learn to forgive your mother,” Dr. Chakrapani Ullal told him, “She needs your forgiveness in order to complete her karmic journey. This is not for your sake, but for hers. You must be the father she never knew.”  In so doing, it seems that Karpf found healing some modicum of healing himself, as well.

Being a father of two, parenting is interwoven throughout Karpf’s story.  Being a priest and advocate during the early days of the AIDS epidemic, death is as well.  But the two exist poignantly, sometimes heartbreakingly so, together in the later chapters.  His daughter’s suicide attempt, and the generously re-printed correspondence between Karpf and a young couple experiencing the loss of their daughter, cemented him in my mind as someone I would want to counsel me both through parenting and through dying.  “As I sit here contemplating my own death, which is really never far away,” Karpf tells us, “I can only report that the stripping away of controls or supposed controls leaves me emotionally and spiritually incapacitated at the front end, though it can become revitalizing and renewing at the far end.”  Perhaps he has already come out the far end of those contemplations, because I found comfort in his ability to delight in his children (even if they didn’t turn out the way he thought they would), and his gentle questioning surrounding death.

“Life comes at me at times with frightening speed and minimal understanding,” writes Karpf in the closing pages of his memoir.  Isn’t that true for all of us?  And yet here is Karpf, admitting his failures while gaining perspective. Allowing for forgiveness of himself and working on forgiving others.  Reminding us that forgiveness and love are a journey, and that, however hard those roads may be, we are not alone when we choose to follow them.

You can find Acts of Forgiveness for purchase at the link, but there are also several upcoming opportunities to win a copy: 

Also, the author will be “stopping by” the blog later today, so if you have any comments or questions for him, be sure to leave them in the comments section yourself!