…a spouse of 30 years dies – “they’re in a better place”…a person is betrayed and humiliated by a trusted friend – “I am trying to forgive”…a person loses a job through downsizing – “God will provide”…a child dies – “God won’t give me more than I can handle”. These are all noble words…but where is the pain, frustration, anger, disappointment…where is the honesty? When it comes to the painful realities of life, Christians find it difficult to be honest with themselves, others and especially God. Pain is masked behind pious pronouncements and Cheshire cat smiles. I think this flows in part from a general and pervasive misunderstanding of what it means to be Christ-like.
We don’t want to be a bad witness so we teach and encourage one another to suppress, repress, or “stuff” what is going on inside us. We are Christians; we don’t get mad, upset or angry with God. We don’t worry, doubt, blame, hate…we hide these feelings deep within so others won’t think less of God, of our Christian faith, of us. We bury these things way down inside ourselves so we won’t doubt or question our faith and struggle spiritually.
We dare not share these God-doubting, anger simmering, terribly human questions and emotions with God. For who are we to question God, to doubt God, to be angry with God? God is God…loving, wise, good, caring, just, making all things work together for those who love God. God’s thoughts and ways are higher than mine as the heavens are higher than the earth. For crying out loud, God had His son die for my sins – how can I be mad, displeased, questioning and doubting God’s intentions? God’s intentions for me are for my welfare so I will have a future and a hope. God gives bread, not stones, fish, not snakes. The problem is with me, not God.
It is not surprising that it is so hard to be honest with God. God has done, is doing, and will do so much on our behalf. Who am I to complain, to be angry about a dead spouse or child, a lost job, or personal betrayal – look what Jesus went through.
All of this, however, is built upon a faulty foundation. All this dishonesty is predicated on a definition of Christ-likeness that espouses a belief that expressing honest emotions to God is forbidden. We remember Jesus was silent before His accusers, but is this the whole story? Is this how Jesus lived before God? I think not. Jesus was real. Jesus spoke that which we do not allow ourselves to feel, let alone express to God. As we look closely at Jesus’ life we find Jesus honestly expressing what He is feeling inside with Himself, God and others.
We see Jesus weeping at the gravesite of Lazarus even though He knows He is going to raise him from the dead. We see Jesus angry, seemingly losing His temper in the temple, we see Jesus disappointed by His disciples, angry and frustrated with the Jews, especially the religious leaders. As we look at Jesus, we do not see a “Polly Anna”, everything is wonderful with the world. No! We see honest emotions, experienced and expressed by Jesus.
Jesus struggled with and experienced profound displeasure with God and expressed this to God. Does that surprise you? It shouldn’t. In fact, it makes absolute sense when you remember Jesus is holy. Jesus’ holiness demanded trustfulness and honesty with God. Two of the most blunt displays of Jesus’ brutal honesty with God are seen near the end of His life – in the garden and on the cross. I love the Jesus I see in the garden, so human, so like me and yet so unlike me because Jesus doesn’t stuff His feelings, but brings them out for all to see, especially God. Jesus is looking toward the cross, the time has come, and how does Jesus respond? We do not find Jesus with a smile on His face and a song in His heart – no, we find Him sweating drops of blood, experiencing profound stress. Jesus is not quiet about this; rather, He brings His feelings, His doubts, His second thoughts to God. “God, is there a ‘Plan B’, another way to do this, can we rethink this whole thing…?” Now, like good, dutiful, emotion suppressing Christians, we want to rush to say “yes, but He said “not my will but Thy will be done”, and of course, you are absolutely right. My point is that Jesus honestly expressed His thoughts and feelings to God…He did not hide His feelings but shared them with God.
Also I would caution you not to be so quick to jump to the words: “not my will but Thy will be done” because Jesus prayed that not once but three times. This was a struggle for Jesus…this was not easy and it wasn’t dismissed by Jesus after one time of praying, nor was the stress and uncertainty wiped away with the magical incantation: “not my will but Thy will be done”. Jesus was real. Jesus was honest. Jesus shared what He felt with God because holiness permits it and demands it. It is more consistent with holiness to be truthful with God concerning what one is feeling (God already knows anyway) than to hide it. That’s how Jesus lived.
Another example I love from Jesus’ life regarding this brutal honesty is the cry from the cross, “My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?” If this isn’t permission to be absolutely honest with God, I do not know what it is. Jesus is surrounded by people who say He is not who He claims to be…these people believe anyone who hangs on a tree is accursed by God. So everything that is happening is saying to these people that Jesus is not who He says He is and He is an affront and an abomination to God.
It is in this setting Jesus cries out in an anguished voice, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” What does Jesus think He is doing? This is not something one should be saying, especially around these people, but Jesus does say it. Why? Because that is what Jesus felt, that is what Jesus was experiencing and all He could do was bring this anguish, this feeling of isolation and abandonment from God to God and ask why. Jesus knew God to be able to handle His feelings, questions, uncertainty, confusion, pleas…Jesus knew God values honesty, openness and a bringing of all things, especially the dark, the unseemly, the human to the light of God’s presence. Jesus knew that God was greater than His words and could bring the true knowledge of who Jesus was to these people, even if Jesus’ words seemed to speak against it.
Jesus’ examples free us to be real with God. If that is not enough, look at Abraham, Moses, Gideon, and the Psalmists. Each shows a great and sometimes brutal honesty and frankness with God – a freedom to express what one is truly feeling and question what God is up to.
There are times in my life when I let it all hang out with God. These are times of special closeness (though not always felt) and life. Yet there are many more times when I ignore what I feel, hiding it inside, not wanting to bring it to God, not wanting to acknowledge it to myself, not wanting to see what it has to say about me and about God. This is a place of unfreedom, a place where bitterness, anger, shame and guilt can grow. O Lord, help me to be honest with You and with myself. Help me to cry out to You from the place of hurt, anger disappointment and confusion I often experience. Give me courage enough to be real with You – embracing the holiness that gives birth to honesty, even brutal, in your face honesty. God, help me to create a space for others to be honest so they can know and experience this life transforming freedom with You.
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