It's ok to feel bad
When terrible things happen, God is ready to listen to everything we are feeling
Published 18 October 2012 | Rob James
I’ve lost count how many times that I’ve heard someone say “It’s everyone’s nightmare”, but it’s true for all that.
I can remember the day my youngest son disappeared (for just fifteen minutes in a busy airport) and it was terrifying, but how can I possibly enter into the shattered world of April Jones’ parents?
I have ministered to some desperately hurting people too, but I have never found myself as exposed as Kathleen Rogers, the vicar of Machynlleth. She suddenly found herself at the centre of a media storm as well as a pastoral emergency. I would be surprised if anything she experienced in theological college would have prepared her for what she had to deal with following the mysterious abduction of a beautiful five year old girl and the subsequent arrest of local man Mark Bridger.
Something of her pain and frustration emerged in a comment she made to two reporters from the Sunday Times. Reflecting on what she described as “an absolutely horrendous week” she went on to say that April’s disappearance had left her “with words and thoughts going through my head that would get me sacked if I were to express them”.
I haven’t stopped thinking about those words because they are symtomatic of her pain and and feelings of horror. I suppose my first instinct was to concur with her. Christians, after all, are supposed to forgive no matter what the crime, no matter how great the pain. That is both true and possible. I have a friend who has forgiven a group of soldiers for gang-raping her sister and almost bayoneting her father to death. It took some doing but God gave her the challenge and the power to do it, in her own time.
But I couldn’t help reminding myself that we often forget that we are human and it is wrong, and probably unfair to expect that church leaders cannot express their inmost feelings.
It might help us if we returned to the Psalms and look again at the range of feelings we find so vividly described there. Take Psalm 139. Having waxed lyrical about the fact that he was “fearfully and wonderfully made”, David meditates on the comforting fact that God knows everything about him, even his darkest, most shameful thoughts.
“If only you, God, would slay the wicked!
Away from me, you who are bloodthirsty!
They speak of you with evil intent;
your adversaries misuse your name.
Do I not hate those who hate you, Lord,
and abhor those who are in rebellion against you?
I have nothing but hatred for them;
I count them my enemies.
Search me, God, and know my heart;
test me and know my anxious thoughts.
See if there is any offensive way in me
and lead me in the way everlasting”
Of course super-spiritual people will tell us that Jesus would never have said this kind of thing, and they are probably right (although he had some terrifyingly scary things to say about those who harm children). But David was not the sinless Son of God and neither are we, even when we have been given the task of leading God’s people.
And so David says it “as it is, just as he does in other Psalms. We find him doing something similar in Psalm 55 for example when he prays
"If an enemy were insulting me,
I could endure it;
if a foe were rising against me,
I could hide.
But it is you, a man like myself,
my companion, my close friend,
with whom I once enjoyed sweet fellowship
at the house of God,
as we walked about
among the worshippers
Let death take my enemies by surprise;
let them go down alive to the realm of the dead,
for evil finds lodging among them"
Strange as it might seem, this is how David learned to cast his cares on the Lord. His answer came in expression not repression. David understood, in a way that we often don’t, that it is perfectly normal to feel like this, and the best way to deal with it is to tell God exactly how we are feeling. He knows anyway, so why wait?
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