Such an Inner Strength

Yesterday, I listened to the latest sermon at Holy Covenant UCC. As regular readers know, I’m a very progressive believer, hardly even calling myself a Christian. I tend to doubt God’s presence a lot. I mean, why is there so much suffering in the world when God is loving and ever present?

The pastor delivering the sermon said that Jesus could’ve had these same doubts while on the cross. Yet what seemed like God the Father abandoning His son was, according to the pastor, the greatest moment of all creation, as God opened the gates of Heaven.

One of the things I find hard to deal with in Christianity is the idea that only certain people will make it to Heaven. I mean, according to the Bible, only 144,000 people who ever existed will be allowed entry into the Kingdom of God. My husband uses this as one of his reasons for being an atheist. My former pastor at the psych hospital though said that this number may be symbolic: twelve times twelve times a thousand is a lot! I like that. Some other progressive Christians at one point told me that there’s a theological theory that says that all of Hell was shattered on the cross when Jesus died for our sins.

At first, when listening to the Holy Covenant UCC sermon, I felt weird. The pastor said that God had hidden his treasure in the plain and ordinary, that is, us. That had me go uhm. I somehow wish I was more than just an ordinary being and a sinner at that. Isn’t that a bit narcissistic of me?

Then the pastor went on to tell the church that we are more than our outward appearance. In other words, we are more than ordinary beings. Because of God, we each harbor a huge inner strength. A treasure. We are more than how we come across to others. We are also more than our experiences. We are more than the racism, sexism, ableism, etc. we endured. Through God, we can overcome the odds!

This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t fight for what is right. The pastor, who I assume is of color, talked about the great abolitionists and civil rights activists, who maintained their faith in the presence of immense hardship. They kept going despite opposition and oppression. That is what we should do. Don’t give up, but fight knowing that God is by our side. Ultimately, even if evil prospers right now, it will not always.

Expressing Faith By Expressing Anger

Last week, for some reason, I felt called to listen to a church service. When I do, I usually listen to United Church of Christ services, though occasionally I check out Protestant Church in the Netherlands services locally too. The service I ended up listening to was delivered at Mayflower Congregational UCC in the Oklahoma City area. It was titled “disorientation”.

The topic was how many Christians think they’re not healthy or whole enough to attend church. Many Christians are taught to believe that we shouldn’t show our distress or be angry with God. Though I grew up in an atheist home, I too was taught not to complain or be angry. “Gets angry easily” was often written about me in psychological reports. This may have been so, but anger in itself isn’t bad.

Rev. Lori Walke, in her sermon from May 10, talks about the psalms, nearly half of which are psalms of lament. In one of the psalms she discusses, psalm 13, David cries out to God in anguish:
“How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I wrestle with my thoughts
and day after day have sorrow in my heart?
How long will my enemy triumph over me?
Look on me and answer, Lord my God.
Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death,
and my enemy will say, “I have overcome him,”
and my foes will rejoice when I fall.” (Psalm 13:1-4 NIV)

Rev. Walke goes on to recite the rest of the psalm:
“But I trust in your unfailing love;
my heart rejoices in your salvation.
I will sing the Lord’s praise,
for he has been good to me.” (Psalm 13:5-6 NIV)

This expression of anguish shows, according to Walke, that David deep down still has faith. After all, if he didn’t believe his anger would do anything, what good would there be in expressing it? As such, those who hold their anger inside and keep silent, usually are more hopeless than those who cry out.

This is why Walke invites us all to take our troubles to church. We don’t need to put up a happy face all the time. Indeed, in our expression of anger, we also show an expresssion of faith.

This totally struck a chord with me. I was taught as a child not to express my anger. Like I said, it was said about me that I was angry too easily. When I landed in the mental hospital at age 21, I even for a while had the unofficial nurses’ “diagnosis” of “angry and dissatisfied”. While there definitely was some truth to this, stuffing my anger only fueled my hopelessness. It was in my expressing my despair that I also showed that deep down I still believed in a good outcome.

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