Prayer: “Engine against th’Almighty”

Part 8 in a series; see other parts here.

In prayer, God values our candor, meaning that God honors even words like these of Job’s:

If I summoned him and he answered me,
I do not believe that he would listen to my voice.
For he crushes me with a tempest,
and multiplies my wounds without cause;
he will not let me get my breath,
but fills me with bitterness. (Job 9:16-18, NRSV)

Sometimes our relationship with God is such that no prayer short of battering rams and catapults loaded with shrapnel and explosives will do. Herbert wrote a poem that figures tears and prayers as artillery, but I’m thinking more of the rage he expresses toward God in “The Collar” (where “choler” is one of the many puns in the title): “Have I no harvest but a thorn / to let me blood?”

So, it’s okay if our prayers beat and kick at God’s door—which really can seem closed to us at times—and it’s okay if we scream and swear in the process. Anger has a way of focusing our sights on the precise target we mean to hit, which paradoxically means that we rarely think of God so intensely as when we rage at the heavens. In quiet meditation we long to approach the throne, but in anger we can feel near enough to close our fingers around the divine throat, and when we attain such proximity God can the more easily reply: “My child.”

Comments

  1. Olde Skool says:

    Oh, yes.

  2. Rachael says:

    I love this. To share a personal story, I was once at a very difficult and painful place in my life. I had internalized this view of God as a punitive God—as the one that kept sending me these devastating trials, one right after the other, all the while expecting me to handle them perfectly (or else more punishment was in store). I never allowed myself to be angry at God because I was afraid of Him and what he would do if I ever dared to vent any anger. Then one day, I just broke down; my prayer was full of bitter accusations, and all of this anger that I didn’t know I had spilled forth. I told Him that he knew perfectly well how hard I was trying and that He couldn’t expect me to be perfect all of the time, especially when I was dealing with so much pain. The prayer felt like it lasted for hours, but by the time it was over, I was a completely changed person; this because my idea of God was completely changed. This false image I had built up of him being a cruel, punishing God, ready to send chastisement my way for the slightest offense, had completely evaporated. From then on, the Gospel became for me more about what was going on in the inside of me, rather than whether I was keeping external commandments perfectly. My focus became on living in oneness with a loving God rather than trying to perfectly follow a long list of outward proscriptions. In other words, I abandoned the law, for grace, and oddly enough, it was anger that was the way in.

  3. I was planning to enjoy without comment, but Rachael, your comment is so close in effective experience (while different in almost every detail) that I want to say “me too.” Thanks for the OP and thanks for the comment. Anger and despair was the way in. And I’ve spent the last 20 years working through the ramifications of a God self-revealed and unlike any I was taught or had described to me.

  4. Jason K. says:

    Thanks, Rachael, for sharing your experience and insight. I’m truly grateful for your recent comments here at BCC.

    Chris: I’m glad for another witness to the phenomenon. It isn’t my personal experience, but I’ve known enough people for whom it is.

  5. Rachel that is beautiful. Jason I am still yelling in anger. Then I back off because I am no longer sure He is listening to my anger either. I miss Him. Even though Job didn’t exist he feels like kin to me.

  6. Jason K. says:

    “Even though Job didn’t exist he feels like kin to me.”

    Yeah, there’s a reason why Job keeps coming up in these posts. Such a profound and important text!