Tag Archives: anger

Advent: Kissing the Peace Child

kiss the sonDespite how consumerist Christmas has become, there is one thing about it that the world gets surprisingly right. Hallmark specials and feel-good commercials repeat the story of reconciliation, of estranged friends and far-off family members being brought near through unexpected twists of fate. Cliché references to the true meaning of Christmas inevitably point to restored relationships and random acts of kindness.

What used to strike me as distracting perversions of the gospel message I have now come see as beautiful retellings. Meditating on the final Old Testament prophets through this advent season, I have felt the angst of post-exilic Israel. Finally restored to their land but still estranged from their God, they had to be wondering if they really wanted to Him to show up or not.

When the people saw the thunder and lightning and heard the trumpet and saw the mountain in smoke, they trembled with fear. They stayed at a distance and said to Moses, “Speak to us yourself and we will listen. But do not have God speak to us or we will die.”
Exodus 20:18-19

From their first real encounter with Him as a nation, God had been a terrifying enigma. He had thundered at them from the top of Sinai, causing them to quite literally quake in their boots. His commands had seemed rigid, His demands overwhelming. Out of fear they drew back, wanting relationship with the God who took care of them but feeling the distance between His holiness and their all-too-human selves.

Serve the LORD with fear and rejoice with trembling. Kiss the Son, lest he be angry and you be destroyed in your way, for his wrath can flare up in a moment. Blessed are all who take refuge in him.
Psalm 2:11-12Exodus 20:18-19

Throughout their history as a nation, they had consistently failed to live up to His standards. And though He proved His long-suffering temperament and His merciful nature, He had also followed through with His promises to punish their persistent disobedience. Who knew the extent of His wrath better than these survivors of famine, war, deportation, and lengthy exile?

“…Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple; the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, will come,” says the LORD Almighty. But who can endure the day of his coming? Who can stand when he appears? For he will be like a refiner’s fire or a launderer’s soap. He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver; he will purify the Levites and refine them like gold and silver. Then the LORD will have men who will bring offerings in righteousness…
Malachi 3:1-3

Perhaps a cold, distant relationship with their God was safer than an up-close, fiery-hot one. But the souls of the faithful longed for more. In response to their cries for His intervention, God promised the day of His return. But would it be a good day or a bad one? Would they survive His purifying fire or be consumed by it? The Old Testament closes with a mixed-bag of prophecy, anticipating the coming King with equal portions of hope and fear.

Rejoice greatly, O Daughter of Zion! Shout, Daughter of Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you, righteous and having salvation, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.
Zechariah 9:9

Who could have known that the King they both desired and dreaded would come so gently? The clenched jaw they expected would come instead with soft, kissable cheeks. The unapproachable Judge would arrive wrapped in a blanket, irresistibly lovable and anything but intimidating. The lamb-like bleat of His newborn cry would beckon those both nearby and far away to come adore Him.

This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.”

When the time of their purification according to the Law of Moses had been completed, Joseph and Mary took him to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord…
Luke 2:12-14, 22

When God finally returned to His temple, He came as a peace offering. His flesh-and-blood presence brought laughter and rejoicing, not fear and trembling. Yes, His broken body and spilled-out blood would purify the sons of Levi, enabling a priestly nation of believers to offer up acceptable sacrifices to the Lord. But His tiny, cuddly presence was in itself an invitation to restored intimacy. Prophetess and priest held Him in their arms. Lowly locals and pagan kings made the trip to gaze on their God.

Though the world may not know why, the core message of its advertising campaign is dead accurate. Christmas is about receiving an unexpected gift, about estranged people being drawn into the warmth of long-lost relationship. Some of us may more keenly feel our estrangement than others.

Sing to the LORD, you saints of his; praise his holy name. For his anger lasts only a moment, but his favor lasts a lifetime; weeping may remain for a night, but rejoicing comes in the morning.
Psalm 30:4-5

Whether like the wise men you have never known this King or like the shepherds you have fearfully co-existed with Him, Jesus is God’s gift to you. His tiny form alleviates your fears, beckoning you closer to the God you have wanted but dreaded.

Come home to your Father, whose love outlasts His anger.

Kiss the Son. Embrace peace.

Naming Abuse

“There must be some other explanation for his behavior. I am so confused. I know he loves me, so why is he treating me this way?”

The telltale signs of an abusive relationship were obvious to everyone else, but David just couldn’t see them. His friends kept warning him that something wasn’t right, but David didn’t want to believe it. Saul was his hero, the one everyone looked up to. Saul was the anointed one, the king that God had chosen to be in charge. Surely he wouldn’t be intentionally trying to hurt David. It was unthinkable to him that Saul could be that evil and conniving.

David came to Saul and entered his service. Saul liked him very much, and David became one of his armor-bearers. Then Saul sent word to Jesse, saying, “Allow David to remain in my service, for I am pleased with him.” Whenever the spirit from God came upon Saul, David would take his harp and play. Then relief would come to Saul; he would feel better, and the evil spirit would leave him.
1 Samuel 16:21-23

Saul was like a father to him. From the first time had been invited to Saul’s home, David had known he was special to Saul. Saul had been so pleased with him that he had begged David’s father to let him stay there and live with his family. He had rapidly promoted David through the ranks of his army, and had offered to make him his son-in-law. They were all family now! Saul’s daughter was David’s wife; his son Jonathon was David’s best friend. They ate together, laughed together, and solved the nation’s problems together.

From that day Saul kept David with him and did not let him return to his father’s house. …
And from that time on Saul kept a jealous eye on David. The next day an evil spirit from God came forcefully upon Saul. He was prophesying in his house, while David was playing the harp, as he usually did. Saul had a spear in his hand and he hurled it, saying to himself, “I’ll pin David to the wall.” But David eluded him twice. Saul was afraid of David, because the LORD was with David but had left Saul.
1 Samuel 18:2, 9-12

David had to admit that Saul had gotten extremely possessive of him. He always wanted to know where he was and what he was up to. He didn’t allow David to go home and visit his own family any more. And his eagerness to tighten their family ties had seemed a bit odd, putting David in awkward positions where he had little choice but to acquiesce to Saul’s forceful overtures. But surely David should feel grateful that Saul wanted him around, not resentful. He should feel honored, not trapped.

Now Saul’s daughter Michal was in love with David, and when they told Saul about it, he was pleased. “I will give her to him,” he thought, “so that she may be a snare to him and so that the hand of the Philistines may be against him.” So Saul said to David, “Now you have a second opportunity to become my son-in-law.” …
Saul replied, “Say to David, ‘The king wants no other price for the bride than a hundred Philistine foreskins, to take revenge on his enemies.’ ” Saul’s plan was to have David fall by the hands of the Philistines.
1 Samuel 18:20-21, 25

It also seemed a bit strange that Saul kept demanding more and more of him, sending David instead of himself to lead the army into dangerous situations. Quite frankly, some of it seemed like an unnecessary risk (like the 100 Philistine foreskins Saul wanted for his daughter’s dowry). But at the same time, Saul always acted so concerned about his safety. David would never forget that tender moment when Saul had dressed him up in his own armor before sending him out to face Goliath. Then again, why had Saul sent a boy to do a king’s job? Surely Saul cared about him. Surely he valued David’s life.

Besides, Saul needed him. Who else could take care of him when those horrible fits came over him? David had seen Saul at his most vulnerable; he had seen that wild, frightened expression and had been the only one who could protect him from the tormenting spirit and soothe his frayed nerves. Yes, those had also been the times when Saul had lunged at him in a deadly rage, but David excused his violent behavior. Saul couldn’t really mean it; it must just be the evil spirit making him act that way.

Saul told his son Jonathan and all the attendants to kill David. But Jonathan was very fond of David and warned him…
Saul listened to Jonathan and took this oath: “As surely as the LORD lives, David will not be put to death.” So Jonathan called David and told him the whole conversation. He brought him to Saul, and David was with Saul as before.
1 Samuel 19 1-2, 6-7

And yet there was no denying the fact that Saul had told his friends that he wanted David dead. Even Jonathan had heard it, and had warned David. Was this for real, or should they chalk this up to his madness? After a clarifying conversation with his father, Jonathan was reassured that he had no intent to harm David. So once again, David returned to the intimacy of a relationship that felt increasingly confusing and dangerous.

Naming abuse is the first step towards healing it.

David wanted to believe the best about the man he loved, to be able to open himself to the relationship he thought they had. He sat in Saul’s presence, playing his harp and singing from his heart, but his mind was conflicted. Was this man his friend or his enemy, his father or his foe?

But an evil spirit from the LORD came upon Saul as he was sitting in his house with his spear in his hand. While David was playing the harp, Saul tried to pin him to the wall with his spear, but David eluded him as Saul drove the spear into the wall. That night David made good his escape.
1 Samuel 19:9-10

An angry shout. A violent lunge. Saul’s spear pierced the heart of the wall, bringing David face to face with the reality he had too long avoided. Saul meant to hurt him. The loving charade that Saul had carried on was unmasked, and David finally recognized his relationship for what it was: abuse.

Abuse rarely presents itself as obvious to those caught in its trap. We explain away the abuse because it is so antithetical to what we want to believe is true. And just when our excuses begin to wear thin, they are shored up by a tender act of kindness or a verbal affirmation of love from the person we had started to doubt. But flattering words don’t erase cutting remarks; extravagant gifts don’t heal deep wounds. As long as we remain oblivious to the true nature of an abusive relationship, we remain defenseless to its harm. Naming abuse is the first step towards healing it.

Beyond Disillusionment

Patty Toland, a friend and co-worker, recently sent me her story of wrestling with God through devastated dreams and deep disillusionment. The complete article was originally published under the title ‘The traps to destroy’ in an anthology entitled “Beyond the Edge.”

1981 was the year that God clearly called me into missions. So I terminated my classes at a secular university and began studying Bible and Mission. I was sure God was leading me to work in Africa among a tribe that had no church and worshipped evil spirits. Twelve years later my dreams became real as I stepped off the plane into hot, humid, lush, green West Africa. My anticipation and joy were almost insuppressible. Little did I know that seven months later I’d fly out of the country for medical treatment and be told I probably could never return again due to poor health.

Suddenly the whole world for which I was living swirled around and around, leaving me in questioning darkness. “God, where are you? Why can’t You overcome it? Why did You lead so clearly, then seemingly pull the carpet out from under my feet? How can I go on when all my hopes and dreams have been dashed?

Then the journey through my internal battles began, starting in darkness and confusion, then gradually being trapped by unbelief, anger and bitterness. I began to think God had brought me all the way to Africa just to dump me there. I neither felt, saw, nor sensed His presence. I searched for Him, longing for a word, a verse, or some small feeling of assurance, yet heard nothing. I did have a kitten and a co-worker who comforted me, but not Him. He remained silent. I was incensed at His apparent inability to be a true Father as the Bible portrayed. Not until one year later did I slowly begin to recognize that He had manifested His presence to me through my co-worker and even the kitten. He was physically with me through them! I wanted Him in a supernatural way and missed Him in the ordinary and natural.

“Sacrifice thank offerings to God, fulfill your vows to the Most High, and call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you will honor me.”
“He who sacrifices thank offerings honors me, and he prepares the way so that I may show him the salvation of God.”
Psalm 50:14-15, 23

At one point while lying in a hospital room, I read the Word out of sheer boredom and loneliness. It said to offer up a sacrifice of thanksgiving to God and that He would be glorified. Feeling my bitterness of spirit rise up and giving in to what I knew wasn’t the Truth, I chose to declare audibly to God, “I have nothing to be thankful for.” I waited for an impending lightening to strike me dead (which I would’ve welcomed as being the most merciful thing He could’ve done) and instead gently heard, “That’s why it’s a sacrifice.” It had never occurred to me that the cost to whisper thanks in my bitterness and anger was worth more to Him than years of thanks during the easy times.

The cost to whisper thanks in my bitterness and anger was worth more to Him than years of thanks during the easy times.

As time went on and improvement in my health was not apparent, all that I believed about God and the Bible were shaken to the core. I realized my faith was shallower than the depth of my circumstances. Capitalizing on that was the Enemy, seeking of course to finish off the last morsel! I knew it was a battle for my mind.

“But if I go to the east, he is not there; if I go to the west, I do not find him. When he is at work in the north, I do not see him; when he turns to the south, I catch no glimpse of him. But he knows the way that I take; when he has tested me, I will come forth as gold.
Job 23:8-10

I knew the only way to give God a fair chance was to at least read the Word again from the beginning to end, allowing it to seep into the sparse cracks in my thinking that were still slightly open to Him. To read the whole Bible from a bitter, angry state of mind is quite a challenge as there are no givens. My theology was revamped as I saw how much the Bible spoke of suffering and testing rather than how much He wants to bless us and make us happy. Even Job looked all over and couldn’t find Him, but was still convinced that God knew where he was and that when God was done testing him, he would come forth as gold. I wasn’t that convinced, but was intrigued that even Job couldn’t sense God’s presence.

The entire health battle lasted 9 years and I realize that the tool of struggling physically has brought stripping … There is a deeper spiritual well from which to drink that brings true abundant life in Him. The drops I’ve tasted are sweet and I wouldn’t trade them. I wasn’t able to say that during the deepest part of the trial, but as He healed my spirit and I looked for His will above mine, a whole new freedom was released. … As a result, it has brought me into a whole new life – a deeper one in God and His fullness that I otherwise would not have known.