I was mad at God. Perhaps not cursing-the-sky-with-clenched-fists mad, but still mad.
There was a time I thought this was a sin punishable by His wrath, but there were no lightning bolts from the sky and I obviously wasn’t struck down to the fiery pits of hell.
What happened instead was a revelation. I realized that honesty in my walk with God is crucial. How could I hide my emotions from the one who gave me the capacity to feel? If He knows my innermost being, as well as my thoughts before I even think them, then why not state the obvious? Open communication is key to any loving and effective relationship.
But at this particular moment, I wasn’t feeling very loving toward God. The past seven days or so were hard in several aspects of my life. I was fighting disappointment and a growing weariness while waiting for circumstances to change in my work, school, and family life. Trying to juggle these areas came to crash as the waves of tragedy filled the social media and news timelines.
The deaths of Alton Sterling, Philando Castile, and the Dallas police officers hit close to home as an African American and the daughter of a retired police sergeant who grew up around police officers. The complexity of my feelings had me at a loss for words as I saw that tragedy could have struck my family on either side. All I could cry out was Jesus. Not as a churchy programmed response, but because I saw the desperate need for a savior.
By Saturday I felt so drained emotionally and spiritually that I spent most of the day in bed. As my professor often says, "Good self-care is good ethics," and my body was crying out for rest. I could no longer put up a ‘front’ at work or at my summer internship as if everything was ok.
While I stared at the ceiling in bed I wondered, “Where are you God? Where are you in all of this?” The prayers of Diamond Reynolds, Philando Castile’s girlfriend, were also in my thoughts. “Please Lord, you know our rights. We are innocent people.”
In the midst of those cries, it seemed like God was silent. Were my prayers only hitting the ceiling? As I began to challenge God, I felt my anger boiling within me until I finally spewed the only prayer I could muster:
God I don’t know what other words to pray. I don’t know what other scriptures to quote. If You are who You say You are, then do something.
Well, maybe I should have done a quick duck in case a lightning bolt came my way.
I kid, I kid.
But in the days that followed I had to come to grips with some of the flaws in my relationship with God. The pain that life can bring often clouds our vision of God’s inherent goodness. It was as if I saw God sitting high upon His heavenly throne, capable of fixing my life with just the wave of His mighty hand… and yet He does nothing.
Sure I believe God is powerful, but did I also believe Him to truly be good in the midst of hard times? Did I believe that God was active and effectively listening to the cries of His people?
During Sunday service at the Bridge Church in Brooklyn, a pastor gave me a timely reminder that God is on the side of the hurting and the oppressed. “God is not deaf to the cries of the hurting,” he said, “If anyone understands, it’s Jesus.”
Though Jesus willingly took on His fate, He too died at the hands of an unjust system. I don’t know of any other god from any other faith to be this close and empathetic to the pain of his people. This resonated with me in the midst of my personal struggles and those of black people in this country.
I came to see that what I was experiencing wasn’t quite anger toward God. It was a feeling of abandonment. On the cross Jesus cried out “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” And perhaps that is how many of us have been feeling. We are wondering where God is, and why He seems to have let us down.
But even after His body was beaten down and broken, Jesus knew His pain was not punishment and that God never left His side. “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit,” He ultimately said before taking His last breath on earth. Just like Jesus, our life is always in God's hands.
In one of my favorite books, The Shack by William P. Young, God poses a question to the story's protagonist who had suffered a great loss, "When all you can see is your pain, perhaps then you lose sight of me?" It was as if the question was posed directly to me. All I saw was the lack and the disappointment in my life. I lost sight of God and the promise of abundant life, and instead saw Him as the target of my angst.
The story line in The Shack continued when God speaks of Jesus, "Don't forget, the story didn't end in his sense of forsakenness. He found his way through it to put himself completely into my hands."
And that was the key to the answer of my sense of abandonment. I had to find my way through displaced anger at God to find His peace and reassurance on the other end. My feelings of abandonment were not on God's part, but on me. Which is why I believe I knew deep down to bring those harsh emotions to him.
We'll never truly understand the complexities of life's tests and tragedies on this side of eternity, but there is one truth that I can hold onto to sustain me. In spite of frightening and changing times, God is immutable. And as my favorite Psalm says, his lovingkindness is everlasting. Though I may feel abandoned or angry, He is always waiting for me to recommit my spirit into His hands.