Forgiving God: From Praise to Bitterness to Comfort

To forgive God is, for many–if not most, a necessary bridge to praising him.  But it is a difficult idea to grab hold of–how does one forgive God? What does that mean? And, indeed, it sounds blasphemous….as if God has done something wrong that needs forgiveness.  And who are we to forgive God anyway? We are the creatures, he is the creator; we are the clay, he is the potter.

Bear with me for a few posts on this topic…it is one with which I struggle, and I struggle to forgive my God.  Walk with me for a few days, meditate with me and pray with me.

I will begin with Job whom, I believe, learned to “forgive” God.

From Praise

Yahweh gave and Yahweh took away; blessed be the name of Yahweh. 

Shall we accept good from God and not trouble?

Job 1:21; 2:10

Job’s initial response to his tragic suffering is noble, laudable, and….practically unbelieveable!  How can he bless Yahweh in the face of such loss–prosperity, servants, health, and–most of all–his children!? 

This has led many to think that these are mere cliches on his lips; superficial expressions of piety that arise more out of his ritualistic (even legalistic, according to some) way of being religious.  It is all he knows to do in the face of the tragedy…repeat the phrases…repeat the prayers….hang on to the ritual as a way of believing.

I can appreciate that take on these words.  Indeed, there is some value to hanging on to the ritual in difficult times.  The ritual provides stability, a connection with past believers. But I don’t think this is true for Job in the prologue. Job–from beginning of the prologue to the end of the epilogue–is righteous, a person who fears God and shuns evil. His faith is not shallow. In fact, he is the one whom God offers as a cosmic test that there is such thing as faith in the universe God created and has permitted to fall into trouble. He is a true believer.

I have known people who have responded to tragedy with just such faith, particularly in the initial moments–me included for some of my circumstances.  I suppose we could say that they, too, are leaning on proverbial straws, but not necessarily.

It may be that a life of faith prepares one–to a certain extent–for tragic experiences. Perhaps living with God day-to-day enables a faith response to tragedy in those initial moments. I have seen mature believers face tragic news, dangerous surgeries and life-threatening situations with great faith, piety and–yes, even–hope.

But…

To Bitterness

I will speak out in the anguish of my spirit; I will complain in the bitterness of my soul.

I will give free reign to my complaint and speak out in the bitterness of my soul.

God has denied me justice and made me taste the bitterness of soul.

God has wronged me…though I cry “I have been wronged,” I get no response….his anger burns against me; he counts me among his enemies

Job 7:11; 10:1; 27:2; 19:6, 7, 11.

But sometimes when believers sit in their grief and begin to feel the fullness of their loss other emotions emerge and begin to dominate.

Job sat in silence with his friends and then let our a heart-wrenching lament where he wished he had never been born and recognizes that what he had feared most had actually happened to him! He confessed that he felt hopeless.

The friends were stunned. Where was that “blessed be the name of the Lord” Job they knew? They told him shut up until he was willing to repent.

Job, however, could not remain silent. He had to speak.  He had to speak out his anguish, his bitterness.  He complained about the unfairness, the injustice, the meaninglessness of it all.  He assaulted God with words and felt God’s hostility in his very bones.

Job was embittered. God had wronged him. He had treated him unfairly. He thought God was his friend, but he turned out to be an enemy. He felt betrayed.

Job resented God. He resented his fate.  He resented how the children of the wicked dance about their tents while his are gone.  He resented how the wicked prosper and go to the grave in ease while he lives in a garbage dump.  He resented that his relatives and friends, who once sucked up to him, now avoid him.

He resented everything, and Yahweh was responsible!

But….then something happened….

To Comfort

I melt before you and am consoled over my dust and ashes.

They comforted and consoled him over all the trouble that Yahweh had brought upon him.

Job 42:6, 11b

Or, I should say, someone happened.  God showed up. He came near. He spoke.  God did not abandon Job; he did not beat him up or slay him. He spoke with him; he reminded him. He cared for him.

And Job let go….he let go of the resentment. He forgave God; Job released God from Job’s own human, fallible and self-consumed judgment.

Job 42:6 is probably the worst translated text in all the Bible. Most translations make it look like that Job recanted his earlier complaints, or that he repented of his sinful words, or that he now did penance for his sins.  But that makes the friends right, and clearly the friends are wrong! God sides with Job, not the friends.

I prefer my translation.  (I know you are probably surprised by that!) 

Job melts before God; he humbles himself.  He lets go.  He does not regret the laments or the words. He lets go of the bitterness, resentment and anger.

“Repent”–not at all!  Rather, the Hebrew word is the same word translated five verses later (v.11b) as “consoled,” and was used earlier in Job 2:11 describing what how the friends intended to help Job, and how they failed as “miserable comforters” in Job 16:1.  Just as Job is consoled by his family and friends over the trouble the Lord had brought on him in 42:11, he was first consoled over the dust and ashes of his life by his encounter with Yahweh (42:6). Having let go, he experiences a comfort in the midst of his mourning and grief, his dust and ashes.

The divine-human encounter, when God whisphered grace in his ear,  enabled Job to let go. Divine presence comforts like nothing else can.

Comfort came to Job when he let go of the bitterness, the resentment; when he let go of his presumed right to judge God. Job was comforted when he forgave God by accepting Yahweh’s sovereignty and trusting his purposes.

More to come…..



16 Responses to “Forgiving God: From Praise to Bitterness to Comfort”

  1.   randall Says:

    JMH said “Comfort came to Job when he let go of the bitterness, the resentment; when he let go of his presumed right to judge God. Job was comforted when he forgave God by accepting Yahweh’s sovereignty and trusting his purposes.”

    Amen!

    I know you have suffered so much more than I have and I am confident your comments are helpful to those struggling with serious losses.

    I look forward to your coming posts on this subject.

  2.   rich constant Says:

    john mark:
    just how long does it take for a man to truly gain the wisdom of god in his life situation.

    over the last two years or so,my kids have ask me “dad if you could change anything …”

    I tell them “i would not change a thing …
    i could never make all the mistakes in judement
    ( my people preish for lack of KNOsko???)
    to be who i am to day with the blessings that have developed through the ernest disire to understand the state ments of our lord in john 9.

    “GOD ONLY KNOWS ”
    JUST HOW HARD HEADED EACH OF US ARE..
    IT DOES RAIN ON THE WICKED ALSO.

    yes. I KNOW …

    free indeed,

    blessed we are

    rich

  3.   rich constant Says:

    P.S.
    or how much of the world”s culture can god extract from each of the true believers,and do good for him….

  4. Profile photo of Bobby Valentine  Bobby Valentine Says:

    Some will be totally put off by the notion of “forgiving God.” How dare we even think such things?? But I find in scripture some folks who are pretty ticked off at him.

    I remember reading Philip Yancy’s book years ago, “Disappointment with God” and simply had no clue what he was talking about. I mean I appreciated his prose and stuff but I just had not lived enough life to “understand” the wisdom he was sharing. But forgiving God has become a very meaningful concept for me. There are so many things that just simply do not make sense … any at all! Yet I find I cannot let go.

    Thanks for post that is true to authentic faith.

    Bobby Valentine

  5.   K. Rex Butts Says:

    This is why I love the story of Job. After our son died, my wife and I were originally able to praise God in spite of our profound pain. But as time went on the bitterness and anger began setting in. It was not until we learned to let go did the comfort truly come.

    I would also point out that such letting go and finding comfort did not occur simultaniously for my wife and I. No two journey’s on the road of suffering are exactly the same. We all travel at different speeds and encouter different stops and obstacles along the way. Sometimes “church” would be a much more comforting environment if everyone in the church understood that.

    Wonderful post!

    Rex

  6.   Terrell Says:

    Clinical depression was/is the pits. It controlled my life for about 15 months. Same daily routine of misery. Consuming misery! If you’ve never been there I pray you never do.

    One typical morning (2 or 3 a.m.) while praying prostrate, I told God that if my son was sick and I had the power to cure him yet refused to do so that I would be considered an unfit father. Yet, here I am, His son, and only he had the cure/power but he refused to give it.

    Yet, I promised God that morning that I would continue to try to be faithful whether he cured me or not. I suspect it was the most gut-wrenching, sincere prayer of my life.

    Emotionally, I continue to struggle as a result of some of the things I lost and found during that time. It’s my belief that in some way God put me through that experience. I’ve not yet thanked God for that time; perhaps due to my own immaturity. Just can’t seem to bring myself to that point. Perhaps rather than thank him I should try to forgive him. Tough concept.

  7. Profile photo of johnmarkhicks  John Mark Hicks Says:

    Terrell,

    I tend to think about it this way: “God, I didn’t like that; and I resent that for some reason you thought that was the best way to guide my life, teach me something and lead me into your life. It doesn’t make any sense to me and it is still hurts. But I trust you because you love me and are greater than my heart, greater than the cosmos itself. So, I will let go of my resentment–though I still don’t like what happened–and trust that your purposes are redemptive, loving and fruitful for my life and the cosmos itself.”

    And it has taken me a long time to get there…..

    John Mark

  8.   Terrell Says:

    John Mark,

    I’ve heard others actually thank God for their troubles because of what they learned in their misery; they’ve managed to see their troubles as the redemptive work of God. I can understand. I’ve learned many things from my experiences for which I am grateful, things that perhaps I would not have learned w/o the depression. Several times I’ve wanted to thank God but I just haven’t managed to get the words out of my mouth. Maybe I’m afraid that should I thank him he might send some more!?

    I certainly agree with what you posted above. I have to carefully arrange the words so I don’t go beyond what I can honestly say. God’s love and redemptive purpses are forever beyond question and therefore I know he cannot act in an unloving manner toward me. Thanks.

  9.   rich constant Says:

    ya know john mark
    how situations seem to dictate our emotions so causing us to feel a certin way, like very very good…OR NOT GOOD
    all of us have been very hungry,while driving,late at night, AND THEN THERE IT IS… YEP THE ONLY THING OPEN…JUST WHAT I WANTED…
    WHO DO I NORMALLY BLAME FOR THAT..
    YEP THANK YOU LORD…

    NOW THEN ….WHAT DOES THAT SAY ABOUT MY SITUATION AND MY FEELINGS TOWORD GOD..

    IT MUST BE THE MATTER OF THE DEGREE?

    I HAVE NEVER HAD A GRIPE WITH GOD,
    ALTHOUGH
    i have big time issues with my “brethern” present co. excluded…
    it is so easy to be a judge.

    thank the lord for you john mark
    all you guy’s i am so thankful
    for this.

    blessings ALL
    RICH

  10. Profile photo of johnmarkhicks  John Mark Hicks Says:

    Richard,

    I’m grateful that you have never had a gripe with God. Relish that.

    My experience, like many Psalmists, is that there is something to complain about, to question, even to doubt. And, yet, at the end of the day, it seems I always come back to my smallness and his greatness, my own “stuff” and his love. So, in the end, my complaint leads me back to the one who loves me.

    John Mark

  11.   rich constant Says:

    john mark .
    you know what they say ignorance is bliss..

    i am in so many ways.

    it is eather all me
    or
    all them,

    but not him
    anyway for me

    blessings

  12.   K. Rex Butts Says:

    I have heard Christians thank God for the character and hope they learned through suffering and perseverance (Rom 5.3-5) and I too have even offered such thanksgiving. However, we cannot go and tell sufferers they should be thankful. “Thanksgiving” is only something that the sufferer can come around too by themselves and God. We do more damage and increase the amount of affliction when we start telling sufferers how they should react and respond to their suffering. Let us be in the business of suffering with those who suffer rather than correcting and judging.

    Grace and peace,

    Rex

  13. Profile photo of johnmarkhicks  John Mark Hicks Says:

    I agree, Rex. We should never tell sufferers how they should respond. We pray with them, sit with them, read Scripture with them, listen to them, remind them of the story of God in Jesus, but we never interpret for them or presume to say what their response should or should not be to their suffering.

  14.   rich constant Says:

    please
    i do hope that you guys are not,or have in anyway thought that i am infering or implying that i was saying anything other than my own personal
    experance of life.
    quite honstly i almost or did compeatly make myself a Raveing loonatic in the late 60’s .
    only one psycotic break in the 70″s though.
    although the lights were on an no one was home for about 8 hours my brother thought about serisoly haveing me committed to the happy farm..

    i praise god for giveing me a sound mind through the stydy of the gospel according to paul.
    .
    but then that is subjective, my brothers

    i would say,you should ‘Relish that”
    john mark, boy john mark could i tell you som story’s about self perception
    that is why i am at times so cyical even though i try to be an active skeptic

    i hope this explains my self
    sorta kinda and why i can not take myself tooooo sereously althought…

  15.   rich constant Says:

    P.S.
    by the way sound mind “for me”
    i can honstly say THAT IS… A COMPARED TO THAT!!!

    BLESSINGS

  16.   K. Rex Butts Says:

    JMH,

    I know you agree with me. Sometimes though, I feel like we are part of a minority agreement.

    -Rex

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