“Your Arm’s Too Short To Box With God”

I was in a meeting with a group of teenagers recently, and we watched a sobering documentary entitled “Invisible Children.”  The film addresses the plight of children in Northern Uganda, many of whom are abducted and forced to serve as child soldiers in a terrorist faction led by a madman named Joseph Kony.  Hoping to avoid capture and conscription, some of the children have taken to traveling at night, staying on the move and living under unimaginably dangerous and unhealthy conditions.

As the end credits rolled, a leader asked the group to react to what they had seen.  A young woman abruptly stated that what she saw made her angry at God.     

As a pastor, I hear this frequently.  I’ve asked other pastors how they respond when a person states he or she is angry at God.  To my surprise, most told me they affirm the anger, assuring the furious individual that it’s okay with God if we shake our fist at Him.  These pastors invariably point to David’s Psalms of Complaint and then give a comforting pat on the shoulder.

I guess I’m a hard case, because I don’t believe God sits behind a customer service desk.  Frankly, I’ve grown weary of hearing people say they’re angry at God.  It usually boils down to the fact that the Creator and King of the Universe isn’t doing what they’ve been telling Him to do.

The youth leader conducting the discussion asked me to respond to the young woman’s comment.  While I had the ball I decided to run with it.

“Is it a sin to abduct and murder children?  Is it a sin to force a child to kill?” I asked.

Heads nodded.

“Who defines sin?” I asked the group.

“God,” a young man murmured.

“Who prohibits sin?” I asked.

“God,” another young man said, with a sigh.

“Who judges sin, condemns sin, and punishes sin?” I continued.

A chorus of exasperated teenaged voices intoned, “God!”

“If God defines, prohibits, judges, condemns, punishes, and warns against sin,” I continued, “and if Joseph Kony and his confederates are engaged in sin, at whom should our anger be directed?”

Blank stares are interesting things.  When I receive a blank stare from a small child or an adult, I assume my point has been missed, but with teenagers, the blank stare is a mystery.  It certainly could mean I have failed to persuade, or it could mean those adolescent brains are processing.  But it also could mean they’re just wondering if everyone’s staring at that big pimple on their chin.

“Who does God authorize and empower to do His work in this world?” I asked.

A bright young lady said, “Us.”

“Right.  If God has authorized and empowered the church to do His work, and if His work is undone, at whom should our anger be directed?”

More blank stares.  Incidentally, it was at this point in the conversation that I realized that I’ve grown too old to be relevant to teenagers.  I looked at myself through their eyes and saw a hunched fossil who held an ear trumpet to his ear with one trembling hand while clutching a bottle of Metamucil with the other.

Needless to say, I guess I’m not the most sympathetic preacher to turn to if one wants to vent anger at God.  When Job, who went through a lot more than most of us ever will, questioned God’s justice, “The LORD answered Job out of the whirlwind, and said, ‘Who is this that darkeneth counsel by words without knowledge?  Where wast thou when I laid the foundations of the earth? Declare, if thou hast understanding.”  Yeah.

 Today is the birthday of a man I deeply admire.  On July 7th, 1851, Charles Albert Tindley was born to a free mother and a slave father.  Though legally considered free, he was sent to the fields as a child after his mother’s death.  Tindley got his seminary education through correspondence, became a Methodist minister, and was called to pastor the same Philadelphia church where he had once worked as a janitor.  130 people were attending when he started; by the end of his ministry, the congregation was a multiracial megachurch with 10,000 members.  Tindley wrote a hymn that I commend to anyone who feels entitled to be angry at God:

            “Trials dark on every hand,
            And we cannot understand
            All the ways of God would lead us
            To that blessed promised land;
            But he guides us with his eye,
            And we’ll follow till we die,
            For we’ll understand it better by and by.”

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