You have rejected us, God, and burst upon us;
you have been angry—now restore us! (Psalm 60:1)
The Psalms contain expressions of anger at God when it seems God has robbed the people of well-being. The Israelites went through many wonderful highs and terrible lows. There were times the LORD was clearly on their side and times it seemed the LORD was far from them. Trying to make sense of this, they often cried out to God and demanded justice that, to them, meant the restoration of good favor within God’s covenant love.
At my worse moments, I have certainly felt God had rejected me, but not through any fault of God’s. I felt I deserved it. I felt I deserved to be left defenseless for turning my back on God and not doing my best to love God with my whole heart, mind, and being. I thought I deserved the LORD’s anger and wrongly believed that I earned His rejection.
Over time, though, I’ve come around to pleading for mercy that God might restore me to favor. Time and time again, God has. My life hasn’t gotten easier, but I have been restored to a measure of balance that allows me to function on a daily basis. And, in the midst of my functioning, I have experienced glimpses of abundance. My cup has overflowed. Goodness and mercy has followed me.
Recently I saw an article contending that people who carry an image of God as punitive experience more mental illness. Some would argue that my theology fuels my mental disorder. Or, perhaps my theology is the result of my disorder.
Such views fail to take seriously the strength of mental illness. They also create confusion about the healing power of God. All illness is a disordered condition (sin) that ultimately leads to death. If God were kinder and gentler with this condition, we would be hopelessly lost. But God, in the sacrifice of Christ on the cross, performed the divine surgery that painfully yet permanently produced healing.
It’s like a woman I know who was asked if her surgeon had a good bedside manner.
“I couldn’t care less,” she responded, “I’m not going to bed with him. I’m trusting him with my life.”
Personally, I’m glad God is punitive with the sin that destroys my health, ruins my relationships, and leads to my death. More than this, however, I’m grateful that God in Christ suffered the punishment for my sake, releasing me from my disorder and promoting my well-being – physically, psychologically, and spiritually.
Call me crazy (I’ll even show you documentation to prove it), but my belief that God punishes sin that leads to sickness and death does not make me more sick, or more dead. In fact, by receiving God’s gift of sacrificial love in Christ, I am ultimately healed from my sickness and saved from death to serve Christ in this life and be united with Him in the next.
I once conceived a story about an “ugly old ogre” who was feared and avoided by all the townsfolk. It was said the ogre was a shape-shifter. Whenever something awful happened in the village, the ogre would get blamed.
There was a young orphan boy in the village. Before they died, his parents left him a beautiful crystal glass he cherished and carried with him everywhere. One tragic day, he dropped the glass and it broke, shattered in hundreds of pieces. Without shedding a tear, he carefully picked up the pieces and put them in a pouch.
For months, the boy walked around the village aimlessly, taking out the broken shards and lifting them to his eyes, looking for a way to restore the glass. His eyes bled and became scarred from looking so closely. The townspeople looked on in silence, not wanting to disturb his grief.
One day the boy was wandering through the village. His eyes had become so scarred, he became lost. Suddenly, he came upon the ugly old ogre.
The ogre looked at the boy cutting his eyes with the shards of broken glass.
“Stop hurting yourself!” screamed the ogre, slapping the boy on the wrist.
The boy was taken aback. Tears formed in his eyes. And through his tears, the ugly, old ogre became the most beautiful crystal of all.