I’ve been feeling a lot better since I put the fork down last week. Chronic self-criticism has been a fantastic distraction with years of life in it. A gift that keeps on giving, if you let it. I’ve used it to avoid all kinds of ventures, opportunities and challenges thus far. But it has been most useful in keeping my gaze averted from the so-called elephant in the room, the greatest complaint in my life (and possibly I’m not alone), which is against God himself. For not letting me have my way. For letting bad things happen to good people. For letting good things happen to bad people. For rain when I want my washing to dry. For sunshine when I’m sick in bed. For not letting me be in charge, basically. For being God. Sometimes I wonder if all people who identify as atheists really don’t believe in God, or whether they just don’t like him and would rather he wasn’t there. If I’m honest, and I might as well be, sometimes a small part of me wishes he wasn’t. Or would at least go on holiday from time to time so I could indulge whatever foolishness I had in mind, out of sight.
However. God is, and I know it. And the truth is that he does not have to do things my way. He doesn’t need my permission to act, or not act. And that is the major complaint I have recognised during this Lent discipline. When I started this I hoped to become more aware of my blessings, and expected to be writing about them. It’s impossible to ignore the good stuff when you’re censoring out the negatives. But I have been surprised by the turn this exercise has taken. It has led me into some dark places. I am grateful, though. At different times in my journey with God I have needed to see what’s really operating at my core, what drives my responses and my aspirations, not what I think is there, or should be there. And it is always the case that at the same time as seeing the sometimes ugly truth, I see more clearly the beauty of God’s grace, kindness and patience towards me.
The classic Biblical personality related to complaining, or with apparently every right to do so, is Job. He was a respected man in his community, did everything right as far as devotion to God was concerned and was prosperous. And to prove a point, God let Satan take it all away, his wealth, his family and his health. Job’s initial reaction is amazing. The Lord gives and the Lord takes away, Blessed be the name of the Lord, he says. Then his three mates get into some theologising and theorising on the possible causes of his sudden and stark misfortune. Job’s answers to them reveal a strong sense of his own righteousness. Not pride so much as confusion about what’s happening to his life because he’s always done the right thing. This reaction flows freely with his mates. But faced with God, he dries up. I am unworthy – how can I reply to you? I put my hand over my mouth, he says.
My problems are strictly first-world. A broken fingernail in comparison with what Job endured back then, and billions of others deal with every day. It’s interesting to notice that I don’t question the blessings when they come along, only the things I perceive as negative. With this in mind, and still quiet inside since Lent started, I note that I am accountable to the same almighty God as Job. Who has the power to give and take away. So I think I need to continue to watch my mouth. Or rather, my heart, as Jesus said that the mouth speaks out of the overflow of our hearts.
So watching over my heart, I look forward to remembering and re-assembling for myself the events commemorated in the coming week, culminating in God’s greatest act of love towards me and all humanity on the cross.