Thursday, June 28, 2007


I will not keep silent; I will speak out in the anguish of my spirit, I will complain in the bitterness of my soul... Who are we that you make so much of us, that you give us so much attention, that you examine us every morning and test us every moment?... Does it please you to oppress me, to spurn the work of your hands... Your hands shaped and made me -- will you now destroy me?

Jonah was greatly displeased and became angry. He prayed to the Lord, 'O Lord, is this not what I said when I was still at home?'... But God said to Jonah, 'Do you have a right to be angry...?' 'I do', he said, 'I am angry enough to die.'

He has turned his hand against me again and again, all day long; he has walled me in so that I cannot escape ... Like a bear lying in wait, like a lion in hiding, he dragged me from the path and mangled me... he has filled me with bitter herbs and sated me with gall. He has broken my teeth with gravel; he has trampled me in the dust.

You have covered yourself with anger and pursued us; you have slain without pity. You have covered yourself with a cloud so that no prayer can get through. You have made us scum and refuse among the nations... My eyes will flow unceasingly, without relief, until the Lord looks down from heaven and sees.

Though he slay me, yet will I hope in him; I will surely defend my ways to his face.

Then Abraham approached him and said: 'Will you sweep away the righteous with the wicked? What if there are fifty righteous people in the city?... Far be it from you to do such a thing.'

'It is not right to take the children's bread and toss it to the dogs.' 'Yes Lord,' she said, 'but even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from the master's table.' Then Jesus answered, 'Woman, you have great faith!'

'My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death... Father, everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me.'

At the ninth hour Jesus cried out in a loud voice... 'My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?'

During the days of Jesus' life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard.

(Job 7: 11, NIV; 17-18, free translation; 10: 3, 8; Jonah 4: 1, 2, 9; Lamentations 3: 3, 7, 10-11, 15-16, 43-45 and 49-50; Job 13: 15; Genesis 18: 23-24a, 25a; Matthew 15: 26-28; Mark 14: 34a, 36; Mark 15: 34; Hebrews 5:7 -- all NIV)

The trouble with some Christian testimonies is that they leave too many questions answered. Yes, you did read me right -- there's no 'un' before the last word. The book of Job is there in the Bible as a constant reminder that if there are easy answers, we're probably asking the wrong questions. Job's friends are full of suitably pious answers to his inexplicable sufferings, while Job rages on and on -- yet it is Job who, God says, has 'spoken of me what is right'.

Some years ago, it was fashionable to display posters and stickers bearing the legend 'Jesus is the answer'. Not surprisingly, enterprising graffiti artists added, 'What's the question?' Discovery begins, not with hunting answers, but with asking the right questions. If we don't know what the questions are, answers will mean nothing.

We must also learn to hear 'the question behind the question'. Most cries of perplexity, anger, despair, though they may take the form of questions, are not actually requests for an answer- they are simply requests to be truly heard. Job asks 'why?', but he is answered with 'who' and that is enough. Jesus, in Gethsemane and on the cross, questions God's actions, but his real need is to know that God is still there. Abraham's central concern is not so much to save Sodom, as to be reassured of God's justice: 'Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?' Even the sulky Jonah is not really looking for an explanation, but for God to show that he is on Jonah's side.

What is refreshing about these biblical cross-questioners of God is their lack of inhibition about putting God on the spot, saying exactly what they feel and expecting God to respond in kind. Jesus' apparent rebuff cannot keep the spunky Syro-Phoenician woman from capping his argument -- and he concedes the point. So we see that humility is not necessarily about silent, unquestioning submission to events. The writer of Hebrews tells us Jesus was heard because of his 'reverent submission' -- but what did this consist of? 'Loud cries and tears'! Humility can mean being careless enough of our own dignity to speak up boldly and risk looking an 'unspiritual fool'.

Are we too mealy-mouthed about laying it on the line to God? He's taken a lot worse on the cross.

Gentile question: Why does a Jew always answer a question with another question? Jewish answer: Why not?

The basic question of the book of Job is not, Why does suffering come? What is its origin? What is its meaning? Why me? -- but, What am I to do about it? Not, Why I am suffering, but How can I suffer? The answer of the book of Job is clear: the undeserving sufferer must protest to God, must hold him responsible, and must never desist from demanding satisfaction from God. Job speaks directly to God almost every time he opens his mouth... His instinct is right; it is God with whom he has to do, it is God who is responsible. He is single-minded in insisting that God answer him.

David Clines, 'Beyond all Proportion'

Anna was standing on the bed, her eyes wide and wild, tears streaming down her cheeks, both hands pressed over her mouth as if to stifle a scream... I cried; I don't know if I cried for her or for myself... Suddenly out of my tear-filled void I heard Anna's voice. 'Please, please, Mister God, teach me how to ask real questions. Oh please, Mister God, help me to ask real questions.'

Fynn, Mister God, this is Anna

People is always telling us
You is the answer
But we didn't ask them
Any questions.

You may be the answer, Jesus,
But I hope you know how we all feel.

Carl Burke, Treat me cool, Lord

Pray as you can and do not try to pray as you can't.

Abbot John Chapman

Talk to him in prayer of all your wants, your troubles, even of the weariness you feel in serving him... If God bores you, tell him that he bores you, that you prefer the vilest amusements to his presence, that you only feel at your ease when you are far from him... You cannot speak too freely, too trustfully to him.

Francois Fenelon

Put a name to my sorrows
and I shall let them pass
loose my angry grip upon
these precious shards of glass
but the name must be grand and great
the name must be true
spoken on a hill's side
cold in the dew

O I see the name printed
printed on the page
and tears come running in a stream
releasing my rage
I let go the fragments
my palm begins to bleed
the name of my sorrows
who climbs a hill may read

Veronica Zundel, Put a Name

To conceal your grief is to find no remedy for it.

Turkish proverb

Do you know what 'le vice Anglais' -- the English vice -- really is?...

It's our refusal to admit our emotions.

Terence Rattigan, In Praise of Love

I was angry with my friend;
I told my wrath, my wrath did end.

I was angry with my foe;
I told it not, my wrath did grow.

William Blake, 'A Poison Tree'

The tigers of wrath are wiser than the horses of instruction.

William Blake, 'Proverbs of Hell'

Anger is one of the sinews of the soul. Who lacks it hath a maimed mind.

Thomas Fuller

Anger -- no peevish fit of temper, but just, generous, scalding indignation -- passes (not necessarily at once) into embracing, exultant, re-welcoming love. That is how friends and lovers are truly reconciled. Hot wrath, hot love. Such anger is the fluid that love bleeds when you cut it. The angers, not the measured remonstrances, of lovers are love's renewal.

C.S. Lewis, Prayer: Letters to Malcolm

Ah my dear angry Lord,
Since thou dost love, yet strike;
Cast down, yet help afford;
Sure I will do the like.
I will complain, yet praise;
I will bewail, approve;
And all my sour-sweet days
I will lament, and love.

George Herbert, Bitter-sweet

'Read your complaint,' said the judge... 'Enough', said the judge. And now for the first time I knew what I had been doing. While I was reading, it had, once and again, seemed strange to me that the reading took so long; for the book was a small one. Now I knew that I had been reading it over and over; perhaps a dozen times. I would have read it for ever, quick as I could... if the judge had not stopped me... At last the judge spoke. 'Are you answered?' he said. 'Yes,' said I. The complaint was the answer. To have heard myself making it was to be answered...

I ended my first book with the words No answer. I know now, Lord, why you utter no answer. You are yourself the answer. Before your face, questions die away. What other answer would suffice?

Queen Orual in C.S. Lewis, Till We Have Faces

'Surely our wrath shall praise thee; the remainder of wrath shalt thou restrain.' Lord God, I find this a mystery; that it is not in thanking you for your goodness that I draw closest to you, but in complaining to you, shouting at you, even accusing you. It frightens me, exposing to you the naked truth of my frequent antagonism to you; yet somehow I know that 'What on earth do you think you're up to, Lord?' is often a more honest prayer than a meek 'Your will be done'. For I still call you, Lord, even when I question you.

It's just like human relationships; it's the friend you trust with whom you dare to quarrel. Politeness is for mere acquaintances. The first row -- if it leads to the first making-up, and a greater depth of understanding -- is a major step in the growth of love.

Give me the courage, then, Lord, to speak my mind to you without fear; for only when I have confessed what my own will is, can I come truly to the conclusion: 'Your will be done.'

Give your people the integrity to turn to you with our real questions, when you hand us over to suffering or allow us to wander in the maze of our own sinfulness. Keep us seeking you, in anger, frustration or confusion -- for when we stop seeking you, then we are really lost.

When we are too weak to summon the joy to praise you, let our anger praise you; and restrain us from the overwhelming wrath which destroys, rather than heals. Free us to show you our real feelings; then free us to let go of them and let them be transformed by you.

A Benediction

And now unto him who is able to keep us from falling and lift us from the dark valley of despair to the bright mountain of hope, from the midnight of desperation to the daybreak of joy; to him be power and authority, for ever and ever. Amen.

Martin Luther King

Rivers in the Desert
ed. By Rowland Croucher pp. 135-141

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