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“What Do I Do when I’m Angry with God?” Philip Yancey

Family Life Today / Dave & Ann Wilson, Bob Lepine
The Truth Network Radio
May 16, 2023 5:15 am

“What Do I Do when I’m Angry with God?” Philip Yancey

Family Life Today / Dave & Ann Wilson, Bob Lepine

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May 16, 2023 5:15 am

What do you do when you're grieved, bitter, or straight-up angry with God? Author Philip Yancey offers powerful ideas for unvarnished emotion.

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After Parkinson's Diagnosis, Philip Yancey Aims To Be Faithful, Grateful

Visit Philip's blog at philipyancey.com

Order Phillip's new book, Disappointment with God: Three Questions No One Asks Aloud

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Quoting that psalm. Welcome to Family Life Today, where we want to help you pursue the relationships that matter most. I'm Shelby Abbott, and your hosts are Dave and Wilson.

You can find us at familylifetoday.com or on the Family Life app. This is Family Life Today. So here's a question. When's the last time or the most recent time you've struggled with disappointment with God?

Go. You can't ask me that on the spot. It's more spiritual than me, so I'm guessing the answer is never or it's been years.

Mine tend to be more regular. No, I have a lot of times where I'm questioning, like, God, why are you doing this? It just doesn't seem to make sense. Or why are things going like this? I think as we transitioned out of our church and I saw the pain that you were experiencing, some pain our son was experiencing, I just thought, I don't even get it, God. It just feels like this pain, I don't see any good in it, and I don't see any redemption in it. I didn't know you're gonna go there.

What would you say? Well, I mean, when you bring that up, I'm like, yeah, I can feel it. It's visceral. But the question I want to dive into today is, do you get to a place where you never struggle again with disappointment with God? And if there's anybody that can answer that question. We've got him here. We've got the guy right now. Philip Yancy, Mr. Disappointment with God author, is back in the studio. Welcome back.

Thank you. Let me ask you that, Philip. I know you wrote this book decades ago and you've written 25 and so it's just one of many. And a new one, his memoir, Where the Light Fell.

Yeah. If you didn't hear our programs on that, listen to those and get the book. But do you ever still struggle with disappointment with God?

There was a turning point for me when I wrote the book, and I'll answer your question in a long way around. I looked for the most Job-like person I knew is a man named Douglas. He was involved in urban ministry in Chicago and had become a Jungian therapist, had studied 12 years, was doing very well, had a wife. And then he was involved in an accident.

He had nothing to do with it. Somebody slammed into his car. He hit his head. He could no longer read. He saw double every time he tried to read.

Here's a scholar who could no longer read. And then a lot of bad things happened. His wife ended up committing suicide and it was it was just an awful thing. This is awful. It was awful.

Terrible. I know. So I figured if I could interview Job, that would be better, but the best I can do is to interview Douglas. So I took him out and said, Douglas, man, I've followed you. You've really been through so much. And you didn't bring any of it on yourself.

You're just one of these innocent people like Job, it seems to me. And I just wanted to find out what it's like to be disappointed with God from your perspective, because if anybody has a right to do that, it's you. And he thought for a minute, and I wasn't sure if he was having one of his kind of brain gaps, you know, because it became several minutes. And then I realized he was just thinking through when was he disappointed with God. And he said, actually, I haven't felt any disappointment with God. I said, Douglas, it's okay, you know. You can say it. I won't use your name. And yeah, it's okay. It's a whole book about disappointment with God.

I need you. And he said, well, what I learned was that life is unfair and I've gotten a really bad draw, but that's different than saying God is unfair. I've learned to separate God from life. I learned that God is as upset about some of the things that happened to me as I am.

And I would have a hard time coming up with something recent. Actually, that was a turning point for me, where I could say I was disappointed with God. And I learned from that. I wrote this book and I wrote another book called Where Is God When It Hurts. So I've been called to speak at some pretty hard places, like Newtown, Connecticut, Sandy Hook shootings, Virginia Tech, Columbine, Japan after the tsunami, places like that. And when I stand in front of these grieving parents, I think of going back to Newtown. We went there the week after the tragedy and it was so sad because it was right at Christmas time.

We had a hard time even getting a flight because everything was full. And then I went there and spoke and it's so important for me to be able to say to them, you are grieving. God is grieving. You're upset with the state of this world. God is more upset with the state of this world. And I could stand here and say God will fix it one day and I believe that, but that's not the time.

Now is not the time for that. I just want to say that God knows what you're feeling and God feels it too. It's so important for me to be able to say, I think that's biblical. I think that's the way God works. He doesn't, he doesn't prevent us. We don't, you know, Christians die at the same rate as non-Christians 100%. You don't get a space suit that protects you when you, when you follow Jesus. We're living on this spoiled planet and things don't always work out. And life is unfair.

I think of Douglas, you absorb more in one year than I have in my entire life. You just can't compare these things and we're not asked to. We're asked to allow God to work in us, regardless of our background, in an honest, authentic way and to somehow put us on the side of good, put us on the side of following Jesus. And when I look at what we're supposed to do as Christians, Paul is very clear in 2nd Corinthians chapter 1. He says, he says, the comfort that you have received from the God of all comfort, the Father of compassion, I want you to spread abroad to those who don't have it. And that's what we're called to do. We're to be comfort dispensers. And I love that phrase, God of all comfort, Father of compassion. I bet you if you went outside on the sidewalk and just started interviewing and said, tell me some descriptions of God, I doubt many people would come up with that.

Why? Because the church hasn't really always fulfilled that. But I will say, in dispense of the church, that I get to travel internationally a lot. And in many countries of the world, wherever I've been, where there have been missionaries, you'll find clinics and hospitals and educational institutions and people visiting in prison and people digging wells.

And if you go to rural India, for example, and say, what is a Christian? Well, I don't know. I guess, I guess it's one of the major religions in the world.

Well, do you know anything about it? Well, yeah, once a week this van comes. It's got a red cross on the side. And whatever our, if we have broken bones, if we have cuts, if we have eye disease, these people fix it. And I guess that's what a Christian is. That's not the whole answer to what a Christian is, but that's the first thing they sense, you know, the God of all comfort, the Father of compassion.

If that's the first thing the world learns from us as Christians, then that's a good start. It's pretty good. I was thinking about my sister. We had just talked in a previous episode when she was in her last months of cancer.

She was on a plane. She was gonna go get treatment somewhere, but she sat beside a girl and shared the whole gospel. The girl was talking about her marriage and how it was struggling.

And my sister had an oxygen tank, and so my sister had a chance to say, oh, let me tell you, I've been there. My marriage has been hard. My life has been hard. I have cancer right now.

I have a stage 4 diagnosis. But let me tell you about this Jesus that walks with me every single day. And he has walked through a really painful marriage, and she said, I don't know how anybody can do it without him. It was pretty cool because that girl ended up coming to her funeral and speaking at the funeral, saying, like, this woman was basically dying, and yet she shared the gospel with me, and she's given my life so much hope. So, I love that's what the gospel does. It brings hope, and it brings physical comfort to some.

As you're saying, that's amazing. In all parts of the world, the gospel brings hope and healing. Yeah, and Phillip, you talk, like you said, you're often called to speak at tragic situations. When those parents walk up to you who have lost a child feeling like God is hidden, do you ever encourage them to lament that? To go ahead and say that out loud, yell at God, whatever? You know, I'm thinking of Psalm 44, which you put in your book. I'll read it. It says, Awake, O Lord, why do you sleep? Rouse yourself. Do not reject us forever.

Why do you hide your face? It's like this lament. Like, when we read that, I'm like, yeah, yeah, I thought that, I felt that.

The honesty of it. And yet, I grew up always being told, you can't do that. Even though it's in the Bible, it's like, you don't do that.

That's like disrespectful and sinful. And yet, I think as we wrestle with our disappointments with God, it's helpful, right? Absolutely. You know, a lot of people think if you go visit somebody in hospital, Psalms would be a good thing to read. Well, you better read them in advance. Yes.

Let's just pull one up. Because Eugene Peterson says about two-thirds of the Psalms are Psalms of lament. Like, God, you think you're not doing a very good job of running the world, basically. And I think it's just amazing that God would include all those Psalms in there.

Not to mention, Job and Ecclesiastes and Lamentations and those other books. Sometimes when I go to college campuses and I'm speaking to a skeptical audience, I'll say, I haven't found a single argument against God in the great atheists or the great skeptics that isn't already included in the Bible. I said, you can reject God. You can reject anything I have to say. But I respect a God who not only gives us the freedom to do that, but gives us the words we can use if we choose to reject. But they're also words of hope.

They're words of promise. The Bible is realistic. You don't have to put on a happy face. God understands. I mean, Jesus didn't put on a happy face. He could have said at the Garden of Gethsemane, okay, gather around. My little disciples here, I'm going to show you how a real spiritual person handles suffering. No, he threw himself on the ground three different times and said, God, if there's any other way, let me out of this.

You know, let this cut pass. That's Jesus. And then when he's on the cross, he said, my God, why have you forsaken me? Quoting that psalm. He didn't quote the Lord as my shepherd. He quoted the one right before it, Psalm 22.

Oh, I love what you say, too. You say one bold message in the book of Job is that you can say anything to God. Throw at him your grief, your anger, your doubt, your bitterness, your betrayal, your disappointment.

He can absorb them all. As often as not, spiritual giants of the Bible are shown contending with God. They, I love this part, they prefer to go away limping like Jacob rather than shut God out. That honesty is so important. Like, we can do that to God.

We can let him know. It's truth-telling. It's confessing what we're feeling and dealing with. Yeah, and that's good psychology, too. If you stuff it, and I'm speaking to myself here, if you stuff it, it'll never heal. If you cover up a wound, it won't heal. Eventually, you've got to let it face the air, face the light, and then it'll have a scar, but it'll be healed. But if you just keep it moist under a gauze bandage for years at a time, it'll never really cover over. And even get infected.

Yeah, get worse. As a pastor for 30 years, I can remember being in many meetings as we're discussing the weekend service and what we're gonna teach and preach and music, you name it. And there would be times we're talking about a testimony. We need a testimony that gives people hope.

Yeah. And so we hear of a miracle story or a marriage being, you know, redeemed or whatever, and we're like, let's put them on stage. Let's get that story.

It's rare. I don't know if we ever said, let's have a disappointment with God's story. Let's bring somebody on stage who the bow hasn't been tied yet. They're in it. We don't know if they're gonna make it. They don't know if they're gonna make it. They're struggling. Do we hurt our people by not allowing that to be something they see?

It's real life. You think we hurt? Where does disappointment come from? It comes from expectations that aren't met. And if you keep raising those expectations so that you assume that God is going to come in at your beck and call and fix you up whenever there's a problem, you will be disappointed.

There's a guarantee that you will be. What are our expectations? I guess I would have to say my expectation is when I look at the New Testament especially, the emphasis is always not on why something happened or some kind of explanation for it, but the promise that something good can come out of it.

So that if you look at Romans 5, James 1, 1 Peter 1, those are passages on suffering and they all point to how good things can happen. Patience, hope, perseverance. How do you develop patience? The only way you get patient is to be in circumstances where the normal response would be impatience.

That's how you learn patience. And we do get the promise that suffering is not a good thing, it's a bad thing, the kind of suffering we've been talking about, but despite that it can be useful, it can be productive. And we can handle suffering if it's productive. I've read a couple of books on pain and these doctors go around and they have a pain chart, they rank pain and second most painful condition would be bone cancer. I guess that's really painful and they rank other kind of cancers, but number one by far is not a kind of cancer, it's childbirth. And the funny thing is when you go to a hospital, there you're most likely to find laughter and joy. Why?

Because sometimes when you go to a hospital you leave something behind, but when you go to a maternity ward, often you take something home with you. And you think it's worth it. Yeah. How many times have you heard people say, I will never go through that again.

And yet women do that. We keep going through it. How much would you say, because you've written so much on suffering and on grace, in the suffering area how much of the redeeming value of going through suffering is in our hands? In other words, we mentioned Joni, you know, and she has a perspective that is so rich and beautiful. Joni Eareckson-Tada.

Joni Eareckson-Tada. That every one of us is like, I'm glad that she can have that perspective, please don't let me have to go through the same thing. But at some point she decided, I'm not gonna be bitter anymore.

I'm gonna find the good, and she has. So here's the question, you know, is obviously God does the work, but is there some point where we have to decide, I am gonna allow his good work to be fleshed out in and through me, or I'm not. I can still stay stagnant, you know. It's your sermon. Clench my fists. You know, is there a, I can be better or bitter and it's really my choice?

Yeah. Suffering works best in community, and I think that's a large part of what the church should be called to do. That's what second Corinthians 1 is talking about.

Spread abroad the comfort you've already received from God. There have been some amazing studies on the power of the church. There's a doctor, Harold Koenig, K-O-E-N-I-G, at Duke University, who studies the difference between people who are involved in a church and people who aren't. What the church can do, and should do, and often does do, is take care of the things that keep you from healing through your own body's properties. So any doctor will tell you, I can line things up, but the body has to heal the bone, the body has to heal the cells, the body has to stitch it back together.

What I need to get rid of is to allow the patient to concentrate only on healing. If they're concerned with fear, I'm gonna die, or anxiety, what's gonna happen to my family, who's gonna take care of my kids, who's gonna fix dinner for my family, these questions. If they're connected with a church, very often a church will say, we'll fix dinner for you, we'll take care of your kids for a while, certainly while you go to the doctor, we'll look after your dog while you're in the hospital. It allows you to give all of your energy and strength toward getting well. And he, in fact, he says belonging to a church will extend your life as much as smoking two packs of cigarettes a day will diminish your life. So the moral is, if you really have to smoke, you better belong to a church. That's kind of an amazing statistic.

Isn't that something? Yeah, but he's got the stats to back it up, and that's what we're supposed to be doing. Yes, we lament, but the great thing about a body, the great thing about a community, is that there are going to be people who are lamenting with you, and then there are others going to say, I used to feel like that, and this is what happened, and I'm so grateful now, like a Johnny Eric Santana. And the church represents different stages of that, and a healthy body, I learned this phrase from my my co-elaborator, Dr. Paul Brandt, he said a healthy body is not a body that feels no pain, that's a very vulnerable body. A healthy body is a body that attends to the pain of the weakest part, and that's what we should be doing as a church, looking for those people in our congregation who are going through hard stuff, and encouraging people to be honest and authentic. You know, you go to so many churches, and how are you doing?

Just fine. Actually, you know that's not true, but people want to look good in church, and in some ways we ought to be more like an AA group, where you start off by saying, I'm a mess. In AA they say, I'm an alcoholic, I'm a drug addict, but we need to say, I'm struggling right now, and feel free to do that.

Not be punished, but to be rewarded and to be responded to in the best way. Yes, I remember Chuck Swindoll writing something similar, he said the church should be more like a bar. Yeah. You know, when you walk in a bar and you sit beside a total stranger and say, how you doing? They'll go, my life's terrible right now, let's talk about it.

You know, and you go to church, you say, how you doing? They lie. Yeah, you're right.

And if they felt like, oh, this is a safe place, I can say what's really going on. It's interesting that when I ask you how to process your pain, you go to community, that's so not thought of. Because often in our pain, we pull away.

Yeah. If we're struggling with disappointment with God, we keep it private, we pull it away. Especially from the church community, because nobody else there is struggling like I am, and yet you just highlight it. One of the answers is the body. Get to the body, get to the... but the body has to be a place where people want to get to. Like, I know I can bring that there. Those people there are gonna receive me, and they're gonna walk with me rather than reject me and say, no, you shouldn't, you're in sin to struggle with that. They're gonna welcome you. If people are in a church, the congregants aren't necessarily honest and vulnerable with their pain, would you advise them that they go find a different church?

I would. At least a small group. Yeah, I've traveled a lot in different countries, and I think some of it is the American thing, and we're success-oriented.

You only hear good stories on TV about those who achieve. We kind of transfer that to our churches, but if you go to places where Christianity is a tiny minority, and you can't advance above a certain level in university or in a job because you're a Christian, you're discriminated against, like communist countries, some Islamic countries, then they lean on each other. You know, they need each other to get through a day, and that's where I see real community at work, or I've been to churches in prisons that are just like that, where people can't get through a day without leaning on each other and being honest and having someone support them and understand them, and I think we just need to punch that balloon, that successful American everything's fine balloon, because it's not, and the only way we're going to grow is by depending on other people to help us. I was just gonna say, everything I think, Phillip, you've said about the church could also be said about the family. You know, we're a family and marriage program, and I'm thinking, man, if our kids or our spouse felt like this is a community, this family, where I can be me, I can bring victory, I can bring defeat, I can bring celebration, I can bring lament, and it's safe here.

Of all the places in my whole life, that's where I want to run when I'm struggling, I want to run home, because there I'm loved, I'm seen, if I'm crying, they're gonna weep with me, if I'm joyful, they're gonna be joyful with me. Man, mom and dad, create an environment where that's what's happening, that your kids want to run to your house, because everywhere else, it doesn't feel safe, but there it does. Phillip, will you close with talking to the parent who maybe is in so much pain themselves, that they feel like they can't give it away in their home, because they're just struggling with maybe doubting God or struggling with God, with disappointment with God.

What are their to-dos, like what would help them, how would you encourage them? Well, you don't necessarily go to your kids for help. Right, yeah, in that instance you don't. But don't bottle it up. Hopefully you have a spouse who can understand, and we go through different stages. I've got some good friends, and whenever they have an argument, they know that forgiveness is necessary, so one of them will say to the other, I'm so sorry, and the other will say, I will forgive you, but it's gonna take me some time.

That's a good model, this way, you know, it's not a snap thing. And the reason I really encourage small groups and more intimate groups than you ever get on a Sunday morning in a church service is to have a community where you can just call in the middle of the night, or like alcoholics, you know, you've got a sponsor, you've got a buddy that will always be there for you, and I would encourage parents who are going through that to find some other parents who have been through it, who can help you and be that God of all comfort, Father of compassion when you need it. I'm just thinking about the person, Dave, that maybe is experiencing that or in it right now. Oh, and I think that's a lot of us. I mean, disappointment with God is a real thing, and as Phillip said, it isn't always the big tragic God doesn't come through, but the little everyday disappointments add up, and you're just completely disappointed.

But let me remind you what Phillip said. There is a God, he has a title, he's the God of all comfort. He will meet you right where you are, and I know it's hard to believe right now, but he is meeting you right now, even through this program. And let me just say thanks to those of you who make this program possible, your donors, your family life partners with us, you give financially, you pray for this program, and you just help somebody right now. And maybe you're at a point, too, where you've stepped out of that season of pain or discouragement, and you're thinking, I want to be that person that brings hope to another family, and so you could partner with us and be a donor to family life today.

Hi, I'm Shelby Abbott, and yeah, Dave and Anne are totally right. Imagine the impact that you can make when your gift is doubled over the next year. I mean, when you walk out your front door or witness what's going on with so many people, you don't have to look very hard to see that there's really a significant need amongst marriages and families, and your gift to family life helps to reach people who need the hope of Jesus right where God has placed you. So your recurring donation, doubled through the matching gift, will help guide people to God's plan for marriage and family through our radio broadcasts, through things like our podcasts, through events like the Weekend to Remember Marriage Getaway, through small group resources, website tools, and so many other additional life-changing resources. So if you want to become a partner, you can go online to familylifetoday.com or give us a call with your donation at 800-358-6329. Again, the number is 800, F as in family, L as in life, and then the word today. You know, non-traditional families are now considered traditional. As churches, how do we meet changing needs and serve them really well?

I mean, heartfelt well? Well, tomorrow, listen to Ron Deal's conversation with three senior pastors on why and how to love all families, despite the narrative of their past. That's tomorrow. We hope you'll join us. On behalf of Dave and Anne Wilson, I'm Shelby Abbott. We'll see you back next time for another edition of Family Life Today. Family Life Today is a donor-supported production of Family Life, a crew ministry helping you pursue the relationships that matter most.
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-05-16 07:18:43 / 2023-05-16 07:30:44 / 12

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