Quarelling with God is a time honored biblical practice: Moses, Job, David, and St. Peter were all masters at it. It is a practice in which men and women in ministry have much practice. We get a lot of practice in this because we are dealing with God in some way or another most of the time (in theory), and God doesn’t behave as we expect.
Speaking of Jonah’s anger in Jonah 4 (and giving me timeless biblical help in my current life and pastorate):
Anger is most useful as a diagnostic tool. When anger erupts in us, it is a signal that something is wrong. Something isn’t working right. There is evil or incompetence or stupidity lurking about. Anger is our sixth sense for sniffing out wrong in the neighborhood. Diagnostically it is virtually infallible, and we learn to trust it… What anger fails to do, though, is tell us whether the wrong is outside or inside us. We usually begin by assuming the wrong is outside us – our spouse or our child or our God has done something wrong, and we are angry. That is what Jonah did. He quarelled with God. But when we track the anger carefully, we often find it leads to a wrong within us – wrong information, inadequate understanding, underdeveloped heart.
Thanks for the help Mr. Eugene… not that I have any anger or know any angry people. Finally, consider this TRUE description of ministry. Recently, I sat with a friend in the PCA – Jay Thomas – and when I asked him what kind of ministry he prayed that he would one day participate in, he oddly answered “The messy kind.” JT – you’ll like this.
A group of seminarians I was leading once asked me what I liked best about being a pastor. I answered, “The mess.” I had never said that before; I don’t think I had even thought it before. The answer surprised me as much as it did them. Sometimes a question does that, pulls an answer out of us that we didn’t know was there, but the moment we hear it we know immediately it is exactly true, more true than if we had had a week to formulate an answer.
Actually, I don’t like the mess at all. I hate the mess. I hate the uncertainty. I hate not knowing how long this is going to last, hate the unanswered questions, the limbo of confused and indecisive lives, the tangle of motives and emotions. What I love is the creativity. And what I know is that I can never be involved in creativity except by entering the mess…
Creativity is not neat. It is not orderly. When we are being creative we don’t know what is going to happen next. When we are being creative a great deal of what we do is wrong. When we are being creative we are not efficient. An artist makes attempt after attempt at the canvas… A poet writes draft after draft of a poem, mercilessly excising cliches, feeling for the true rhythm, filling the wastebasket with crumpled paper, and eventually getting words together that tell the truth and tell it truthfully. Lovers quarrel, hurt and get hurt, misunderstand and are misunderstood in their painstaking work of creating a marriage: apologize and then explain, listen and wait, rush forward and pull back, desire and sacrifice as love receives its slow incarnation in flesh and spirit.
Now that, my friends, is a beautiful, true, honest picture of all that God has taught a young pastor in the mess of life and churchplanting. I love the mess. I hate the mess. I think I see the need of the gospel in the mess. I know I have seen the creative power of the Spirit in the mess. Bring it on, O God. Show us that we are poor and needy, messy and in the right place for transformation.
So to sum up this morning’s reading of The Unpredictable Plant by Eugene Peterson (p.155-167): In the mess, I meet God. But I often quarrel with him. In the mess, I meet my anger and that of others… which helps diagnose the mess. Then, the mess becomes the place of mercy – unprogrammed, unanticipated, unknown Creative mercy. God is there. Messy ministry is the better kind.