I often wonder why God puts up with us.
We’re wasteful: with the planet, with one another, with life. We’re self-centered: in our pride, in our needs, even in our shame. We’re frightened: by what is new, by what is unknown, by what is evil, and (puzzlingly) by what is good.
What kind of deity has patience for such behavior, generation after generation?
O give thanks to the Lord, who made the heavens… who made the sun and moon… who brought Israel out from among Egypt… who divided the Red Sea… who led the people through the wilderness… who gives food to all flesh… who does great wonders… O give thanks to the God of heaven, whose steadfast love endures forever. – Psalm 136, excerpts (NRSV)
“A loving God,” is the right answer, of course. God’s steadfast love endures forever.
But my lingering dissatisfaction with the right answer suggests to me that I’m asking the wrong question: What kind of people continue such behavior, generation after generation?
People in pain. People in pain because of evil, and people causing pain out of evil. People carrying the unhealed pain of previous generations. People jealous of the healing others have found. People raging against everything and everyone except the pain itself.
When my kids were in elementary school, I learned to recognize that a sour attitude or an unfolding tantrum in the evening meant they had spent all day focusing their energies on self-preservation and self-control. (Elementary school isn’t a walk in the park.) They expressed their frustration and fatigue at home, because home was a safe space to pour out pain. Through the Red Sea, through the wilderness, under the endless gaze of sun and moon, the ancient Israelites raged and wrestled against God, an outpouring of the generations of pain they had kept tightly controlled while living under Pharaoh’s oppression.
And God put up with them.
Not because God is patient with pain. But because God is patient with healing.
Put up with me a little longer, God, in this wilderness of healing.
About the Author
Rachel Hackenberg serves on the national staff for the United Church of Christ. She is the author of Writing to God and the co-author of Denial Is My Spiritual Practice, among other titles. Her blog is Faith and Water.