Tell Me Again That God Isn’t Angry (by Charles Dean)
As the pastor of a three-year-old church plant, it’s common for me to stand in front a couple hundred people and assure them of the good news; that God is full of grace, full of love and that no matter what they’ve done God still loves them and wants to be restored to them. I assure them that God isn’t angry, and like the father of the prodigal he stands with open arms awaiting the return of his prodigal children. And I believe this. I really do. If I didn’t believe this – at the core of my being – I would walk away from the pastorate and do something else that paid more for fewer hours and less stress.
But even though I believe in my head that God loves me, even though it’s foundational to my understanding of God, and even though I have the word grace tattooed on my arm, I still sometimes suspect that God is angry with me. I still wonder if my 12-year-old-minivan needs repairs because I didn’t pray enough. I wonder if the broken coffee maker on our counter is because I regularly overeat and God is trying to teach me a lesson about my unhealthy relationship with food & drink. I wonder if the Japanese Beetles that are chewing the leaves of my newly planted peach tree are a plague sent by God to punish me for my vanity about my lawn and garden.
Or, on the flip side, I wonder if God withholds his blessing because I haven’t yet earned it. I’m a Midwestern boy with a Midwestern work ethic. And if there’s one thing we know in the Midwest, it’s that you get what you deserve. “So,” I tell myself, “you don’t deserve a book deal, new car, bigger church, nicer bike, financial security, ad infinitum, ad nauseum.” And even though I theologically reject the prosperity gospel, I wonder if God would at least bless me a little bit more, if I could just work harder, shape up, stop being so selfish, and give more of my time and money back to the church.
And so this battle rages inside me between what I know on an intellectual level to be true, and what I feel. And there are times that I feel like the war inside will tear me apart. There are times that I want to scream at God, “if this is what your love feels like, then leave me alone.” And most of the time, I can keep the conflict inside. I can hide behind my smiling, polished veneer. I can tell people all the “right things” about God’s love for them, how God’s love and grace are unconditional and inexhaustible. But somehow, I can’t convince myself that the same is true for me, and I insist that somehow I’m a special case, undeserving of grace.
But recently, talking with trusted friends, sharing some of my struggles and frustrations, it spilled out through a flood of tears. And I said what I often feel – even though I know it to be a lie – “I think God is angry with me.” And people who love me assured me again, telling me what I already know, but find incomprehensible sometimes to actually believe. Because sometimes, pastors too need to be reminded that we all lie to ourselves, and our God is love.