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.

 If you are learning from what you read here, please follow the blog for more.  Click the folder icon in the upper left corner of the menu, and you can follow via WordPress or email.  God Vs. The Patriarchy is also on Instagram and Twitter, too.

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!

Job 18 – Gaslighting with Bildad

“The lamp of a wicked man is snuffed out;
    the flame of his fire stops burning.
The light in his tent becomes dark;
    the lamp beside him goes out.
(Read the rest of the chapter, here.)

Sometimes, wicked men do prosper

Bildad fully shows his willful ignorance here.  We all know that the “bad guy” doesn’t always get his comeuppance, that very often the wicked do prosper while the good and innocent do fail.  I don’t know why this is, but it is undeniably a part of life today, and I’m sure there were examples of this back in Job and Bildad’s time as well.

To wrestle with why God allows wicked men to prosper is going to take more than one blog post.  I have no clear answer and it is one of the biggest challenges I face in remaining faithful.  In my post on Destiny vs. Free Will, I shared my thoughts on God creating a framework within which we can make our own choices. It’s like children being contained on a playground or an artist painting wet-into-wet in watercolor:  there’s a basic structure within which all actions are contained, but what exactly is going to happen is spontaneous.  Perhaps, then, the wicked prospering is like the bully on the playground, or making a bold brush-stroke that bleeds into a more delicate element of the painting.  Neither of these are perfect examples because it implies God isn’t looking or God makes mistakes, and I, personally, don’t believe that can be true if God does exist.  Like I said, this is something that challenges me.

Don’t be a Bildad

What I do know, however, is that Bildad’s response is about as useless as can be.  He meets Job’s hurt with anger, then offers empty platitudes and turn a blind eye to the realities in the world. Basically, Bildad is gaslighting Job. (Gaslighting is when you pyschologically manipulate someone into questioning their own sanity.  There are some subtle and many appalling examples if you do an online search.)

Don’t be a Bildad.  It can be hard not to get defensive, but if you are in a situation where someone becomes angry about something you feel doesn’t apply to you (institutional racism or sexism, xenophobia, bullying…) please resist the urge to deny or to argue.  Just because you don’t do something doesn’t mean it never happens.  Recognizing someone’s hurt is the first step in healing.  It can be humbling, and even awkward, to listen to someone enumerate the ways in which they have been wronged and realize that maybe you were actually part of the problem.  But even if you truly weren’t, you may learn something you didn’t know before, and be able to spot – and stop – gaslighting the next time it happens near you (or to you!).

Bildad doesn’t know the big picture, and is speaking out of arrogance and ignorance.  If he did, I bet he would be a lot more consoling to Job.  And truly, isn’t it best to err on the side of love?  Even if Job was in the wrong, I don’t think God would have held it against Bildad for trying to offer him comfort. I know that’s something I could do a better job of remembering in my own daily interactions.  Sadly, I expect that as the election season (and vitriolic rhetoric) ramps up alongside the spread of the corona pandemic, we will see more examples of biases coming out: more discrimination against anyone who looks even vaguely Chinese, wariness of foreigners in general, and possible old racial stereotypes of non-whites being “dirty” and, in certain minds, more likely to spread infection.  BIPOC, or anyone that looks like they belong to those groups, are going to be facing a lot in the coming months.  If somebody comes to you with a story of discrimination, please believe them.  Do not turn a blind eye to the injustices of the world, as Bildad does.  To listen is to err on the side of love, and we’ll need a lot of that this year.

If you are enjoying what you read please follow the blog for more!  Click the folder icon in the upper left corner of the menu, and you can follow via WordPress or email.  And don’t forget to check us out on Instagram and Twitter, too!