30 years ago Francis Schaeffer claimed that the premier gods of westerners were personal peace and prosperity. Everybody knows what prosperity is, but the personal peace he spoke of was a desire to be left alone, unconcerned with anyone or anything else in the world. It’s no different today.
The personal peace he meant was a kind of autonomy/privacy that’s oh-so-American. But scratch it more deeply and buried beneath this everyman idolatry could be the hope–maybe even the expectation that nothing should go wrong for me; my perfect world should not be disturbed. Which could explain why people get so mad when it is. Why they go ballistic when their prosperity or peace leave town.
Sometimes it’s due to a big blow. Like the widow who began screaming and cursing shortly after I said the “Amen” at her husband’s funeral. (She was mad at God and her dead husband.) Sometimes its a small blow. I remember as a teenager just going postal when I couldn’t get the motorcycle started I’d borrowed from a friend. Not exactly a tragedy of cosmic proportions but you’d think it was by the library of epithets I hurled at the heavens.
My last post on suffering discussed the person who simply resigns himself/herself to the inevitable disappointments. Maybe like Eeyore, someone who bleakly expects that’s how life’s going to be and doesn’t do anything about it when it is. In this post, it’s the anger response; the fury, rage, the indignation. This one, I have much history with. Maybe you do too.
Angry at whom? Anger is usually directed at someone: a person at fault, the one to blame. If his girlfriend dumped him, she’s in his crosshairs. If his boss demoted him, he is. If no one’s to blame–say, she gets cancer, it’s a little trickier. Who’s to blame for a dreaded disease? With a little investigation maybe you can pin it on a nearby manufacturer who might have contaminated your well. Or, the secondhand smoke you inhaled from a spouse. But what if your search yields no one to blame?
People still get mad. At God. Even those with barely a vague notion of God–or Christians who don’t believe God is sovereign to the degree the Bible says, believe instinctively that He’s running the show. If things go badly for them, He’s ultimately their Fall Guy.
The best an atheist/agnostic can do is blame fate–or some other nebulous substitute. But the Christian–or even the God-believer, knows God could have kept her from cancer, could have stopped the divorce, could have snatched her son from the road, could have intervened with her boss, could given her more money, or….
In other words, unless a person can exile his/her suffering to a sector that somehow God isn’t in charge of, he/she will eventually blame God. Here is where humanity’s twin beliefs converge even if not admitted out loud: God is in control, and I deserve better than what I’m getting. Although a veneer of humility or self-denial can camouflage it, anchored to the bedrock of my self-perception is the deeply held belief that that I didn’t deserve to lose my job; I don’t deserve a flat tire; I don’t deserve that kind of treatment by my son. I don’t deserve cancer. I don’t deserve this traffic jam. I do deserve a child. I do deserve to be thought well of. I deserve to earn enough money to live like ______.
Job suffered like few people have: his wealth was either stolen or destroyed, his 1o children were killed, his wife turned against him, his reputation was in tatters, and his health was ruined. From Job 3 to Job 31 he repeatedly protested that he did not deserve to be treated like this. Humanity’s twin convictions were firmly anchored: God’s in control and did this, but I don’t deserve it.
To which God replied: Will you even put me in the wrong? Will you condemn me that you may be right (Job 40:8)? To lash out at God over suffering says God’s made a mistake: He’s wrong, I’m right. Yet basic Bible theology teaches us that we are by nature wicked (Rom.3:10, 23), and thus objects of God’s wrath (Eph.2:3). Therefore, all the suffering we experience, is deserved. Not that a child dies because we told a lie at work. Rather, that since we are sinners both by nature and by practice, we are not deserving of special treatment that puts us out of reach of suffering. Indeed, what is not due us are God’s blessings: life, health, children, work, friends, peace, security, family, education, respect, abundance, love, and most of all, deliverance from our sins and God’s judgment, and the blessing of His favor to us in Christ.
Anger at suffering can only be moderated by a growing recognition that no, I don’t deserve anything but judgment, death and hell. EVERYTHING else is a bonus.