Anger is a perfectly acceptable response to a pandemic.
I am angry. Are you angry? It’s perfectly okay if your answer is yes.
We’re angry with the virus. Angry with this not-even-living-thing. Angry about what we cannot even see and cannot control.
We’re angry about the loss of human warmth and connection.
We’re angry about the unfathomable loss of tens of thousands of lives.
We’re angry about the devastating loss of livelihoods – in the millions.
We’re angry with the powers that be. The powers and principalities grappling to contain the contagion.
We are angry with the injustice the pandemic has wrought. How the poor struggle more and the rich appear to prosper.
And we’re angry at the loss of lots of little things.
And we’re ticked at God. Being ticked at God is a perfectly acceptable response – even when there is no pandemic. Being angry with God is not blasphemy. Quite the contrary, it’s biblical.
Some will say, “God has a plan!” Really? Covid-19 is part of God’s glorious plan? What kind of a cruel god is that? Besides, the God of Love is much more than a planner. God is the author of infinite positive possibilities.
God always intends good. But that does not mean, of course, that bad does not happen.
I have heard others say, “Everything happens for a reason.” Really? What reason could possibly justify this modern-day plague?
Some will say the reason is God is punishing us for “blank.” They will argue that, after all, did not God rain down ten plagues on Pharaoh? While there is a grain of truth to the Exodus story, the anger that God rains down on Egypt is more liturgical than historical.
(And Christians have weaponized this wrathful-God-theology in the past; long past and recent past, too.)
Always intending good for us, God does get angry. Righteously so. But the reverse is also true. We can just as righteously get angry with God.
There is no better icon of this than Jesus on the Cross.
Jesus’ words come from Psalm 22, a song of complaint:
My God, my God, why have you forsaken me,
and are so far from my cry,
and from the words of my distress?
O my God, I cry in the daytime, but you do not answer;
by night as well, but I find no rest.
In contrast, the psalms we read on Sundays are mostly the happy ones, the pretty ones.
“The Lord is my shepherd I shall not want.” Ps 23: 1
“This is the day the Lord has made. I will rejoice and be glad in it.” Ps 118: 24
Christians have long romanticized this biblical book. Out of 150 psalms, the lectionary cuts out most of the nasty bits.
But the Psalter is a Hebrew prayer book – whose pendulum swings from peace to pain — and then back again. The painful psalms, Walter Brueggemann calls songs of complaint. These poems give voice to the “the tension between deep loss and amazing grace.”
Holocaust survivor, Elie Wiesel, wrote “Poets exist so the dead may vote.”
“They vote for faith,” Brueggemann agrees. “But in voting for faith, they vote for candor, for pain, for passion – and finally for joy. Their persistent voting gives us a word that turns out to be the word of life.”
In other words, while God is not the pandemic’s cause, God deserves to hear our anger. God’s more than big enough to handle whatever we have to throw at him. So, go ahead and get angry.
God works in the complaint department. Biblically, this is how it goes.
It begins with a plea.
A plea that is addressed to God. It can be intimate and personal. “You know me God, we’ve talked before.”
Then it lays out the complaint. Just how desperate is the situation. “I am sick. I am isolated, oppressed, in prison.”
Followed by the ask. The complainer not just asks, but demands God do something. It’s a command from below to the above. It’s an imperative.
Motivation is questionable, less than noble, but that is okay. The psalms give voice to despair. They harangue, bribe, bargain and try to intimidate God.
The Psalmist leaves none of the nasty bits out.
But then the prayer harkens back to better times. “I remember God. I remember your goodness to me in my youth.”
Then the prayer shifts to gratitude. Whether the shift is actual or attitudinal, cannot be known. Urgency yields to calm. Desperation to giving thanks.
Confidence and assurance then follow, “I have been heard. I have been saved.”
And Yahweh is praised. “God is generous. God is good.”
It’s relational, it’s emotional. It’s honest, real and raw. The psalter is the perfect prayer book for a pandemic.
Martin Luther wrote: “What is the greatest thing in the Psalter but this earnest speaking amid the storm winds of every kind? They use such words that no painter could so depict for your fear or hope, nor has any Cicero ever portrayed them. And that they speak these words to God and with God, is the best thing of all.”
So, crack open a Bible or the Book of Common Prayer. Take a tour of the Psalter. The songs of complaint include Psalms 12, 22, 25, 42, 43, 60, 74, 79, 80, 85, 86, 88 & 90. (And I am sure there are more.)
Let their complaints resonate with your complaints. Let their sorrows give voice to your sorrows, their pain to your pain. And let scripture write you a prescription — for a spiritually healthy way to vent your anger.
Give this a try.
Take out a notebook and write your own. Remember, the definition of a complaint song is that it is not pretty. So, use whatever kind of language you want. Put it all out there. The plea, the complaint, your motivations, good, bad and indifferent. Let God know exactly what you think and what you hope to happen. Recall better times and God’s generosity from another day. Know that God hears you — here and now. Let gratitude creep in. Finish it up with a word of praise.
Let today’s anger go. And as it goes, let it lighten your spirit. Let it create a little space in your soul for good.
Covid-19 will be with us a long time. Tomorrow’s anger will come.
The news will still be unbearable. You will be ticked at God again.
And that’s totally okay.
— Joani Peacock, May 2020
The Rev. Joani Peacock, Editor for Emmanuel Voices: A Parish Blog