I remembering reading an article in a Christian Journal about the differences between the way Christians and Jews talk about God. This author pointed out that the influence of Christian piety, a more recent development in an affluent and powerful Church context, has made any kind of frustration or anger or disappointment expressed toward God extremely problematic. If the end game of our relationship with God is one of happy bliss than it becomes very important to arrive at a place in our relationship with God where we express nothing but thanksgiving and joy regarding what God has done for and with us. As humans we are hard wired to be emotive and thus when this important relationship runs into rocky ground our true feelings need to go somewhere. For pious Christians there can only be guilt when inevitably we get frustrated with God and say so.
Any quick read of the Jewish Torah will reveal that Israel, God’s people, frequently gets upset, angry and depressed about their relationship with God. Jews are not afraid to express these “ups and down” about their conversational relationship with God. Read the 150 Psalms in the Bible and you will see a pattern of frustration, anger, discernment, revelation, support, epiphany and resolve. But most importantly that “dance” has to include an honest reflection concerning the discord with God, people need to get these words out, say them out loud and then find the spirit to move forward.
Christians seem to struggle with this kind of honest talk. We somehow have this notion that God will be offended by our critique, by our anger, only praise seems the right approach to our Creator. But surely this God of ours that gives all life, life that includes suffering, pain, disappointment, death and trials of all sorts knows humanity cannot sustain these challenges without access to an emotional response. It is human to be angry and frustrated and given that the hard wiring our Creator gave us includes all of these emotions we need to understand that God is ready for this kind of honesty.
There is an ease in the Christian life with calling God a Holy Parent, many use the term Father. Thus we may feel that being angry with our Holy Parent is somehow ungrateful and wrong. But surely our God is bigger than any of the terms we use when groping to find words to say to God. God is Parent but more than parent, God is Creator, Sustainer and Redeemer and thus God absorbs all, understands all and helps us make sense and respond to all. Holding back what is real and confusing from God limits our relationship with God, our prayers of discernment need total honesty to get to the place where real transformation and revelation comes to the surface.
I love the Psalms and believe we Christians need to put piety aside and enter into the kind of deep conversation that our Jewish sisters and brothers offer in their prayers. I believe this is part of our identity as Christians, lost only recently by this strange affection for piety. Piety may be satisfying on a sentimental basis but with time and reflection this approach just does not hold. Pain and setback make piety very problematic. Open and honest conversation, struggling with the frustration and pain, is the only way to discernment and new life. I pray for this revelation each and every day.