(The fourth chapter of my book on the Shack. I publish it here in light of the lament over terror, school shootings and the presence of tragic evil in the world.)
I hate you.
I meditated on this brief prayer for months after I read it. Initially, I was horrified by how much I identified with the prayer and I was troubled by the prayer’s resonance in my soul. My first reaction, however, was “I get the point.”
So did Mack. He had become “sick of God” over the years since Missy’s death (p. 66). But he went to the shack at God’s invitation, doubting whether it really was God. As he entered the shack for the first time in over three years his emotions exploded (p. 78).
Mack bellowed the questions most sufferers ask and most often they begin with the word “Why?” “Why did you let this happen? Why did you bring me here? Of all the places to meet you—why here?” In a “blind rage” he threw a chair at the window and began smashing everything in sight with one of its legs. He vented his anger. His body released the emotions he had stored up in it.
Anger, if not resolved or healed, simmers inside of us. It becomes part of our body and we feel it in our chest, stomachs, shoulders, or neck. It destroys us from within. One day it will explode. For over three years Mack had suppressed this anger but now alone in the shack it poured out with a vengeance. “Groans and moans of despair and fury spat through his lips as he beat his wrath into this terrible place.”
Fatigue ended his rampage, but not his anger or despair. The pain remained; it was familiar to him, “almost like a friend.” This darkness was Mack’s “closest friend” just as it was for Heman in Psalm 88:18. “The Great Sadness” burdened him and there was no escape (p. 79). There was no one to whom he could turn, so he thought. Even God did not show up at the shack.
It would be better to be dead, to just get it over with, right? When great sadness descends on us, sometimes—like Mack—we think it is better to simply die and be rid of the pain. We think we would be better off dead if for no other reason than that the hurting would stop. Or, like Job, we might wish we had never been born (Job 3). Contemplating suicide, Mack cried himself to sleep on the floor of the shack.
Rising after what “was probably only minutes,” Mack, still seething with anger and berating his own seeming idiocy, walked out of the shack. “I’m done, God.” He was worn out and “tired of trying to find [God] in all of this” (p. 80).
This scene is Mack’s true self. It is Mack in the shack. It is the pent-up, growing and cancerous feelings of anger, bitterness and resentment toward God. God, after all, did not protect Missy. God was no “Papa” to Missy in her deepest distress and need. The journey to discover God is not worth it. It is too hard, too gut-wrenching, and useless!
In his rage Mack expressed the words that seethed underneath the anger, resentment, disappointment and pain. “I hate you!” he shouted.
“I hate you.” Them’s fighting words, it seems to me. It expresses our fight (or, as in the case of Jacob, wrestling) with God. Sometimes we flee our shacks but at other times we may go to our shacks to find God only to discover we have a fight on our hands because God did not show up. This is Mack’s initial experience.
The word “hate” stands for all the frustration, agitation, disgust, exasperation, and bewilderment we experience in the seeming absence of God as we live in a suffering, painful and hurting world. “Hate” is a fightin’ word—a representation of the inexplicable pain in our lives; a word that is used as a weapon to inflict pain on the one whom we judge to be the source of the pain. Sometimes, perhaps, we are too polite with God. Sometimes we are not “real” with the Creator. Sometimes, like Jacob in Genesis 32, we need to wrestle with God.
I hear God’s suffering servant Job in this word though he never uses the specific term in his prayers. God has denied Job fairness and justice, and Job is bitter (Job 23:1; 27:2). God is silent. God “throws” Job “into the mud” and treats him as an enemy (Job 30:19-20). God has attacked him and death is his only prospect (Job 30:21, 23). Job is thoroughly frustrated, bitter in his soul, and hopeless about his future (Job 7:11, 21). He does not believe he will ever see happiness again (Job 7:7). God was a friend who turned on him—“hate” might be an accurate description of Job’s feelings as he sits on the dung heap.
And yet, just as Madeleine’s brief prayer, Job ends with “Love, Job.” He speaks to God; Job is not silent. He does not turn from his commitment to God; he does not curse God or deny him. He seeks God even if only to speak to him though he may slay him. He laments, complains, wails, and angrily (even sarcastically) addresses the Creator, but he will not turn his back on God (Job 23:10-12; 21:16).
The contrast between “I hate you” and “Love, Madeleine” is powerful. It bears witness to the tension within lament and our experience of the world’s brokenness. Though deeply frustrated with the reality that surrounds us (whether it is divorce, the death of a son, the death of a wife, the plight of the poor, AIDS in Africa, etc.) and with the sovereign God who does whatever he pleases (Psalm 115:3; 135:6), we continue to sign our prayers (laments) with love. We have no one else to whom we can turn and there is no else worthy of our love or laments.
We can all get to the point that we are “done” with God, that is, where we are “done” trying to “find God” in our shacks. The search for meaning, relationship, and love is often frustratingly slow and fruitless. “I hate you” may be the most simple and shocking way to express our feelings about the whole mess.
Sometimes we blurt out language that expresses our feelings but does not line up with our faith. This can happen when our faith is shaken, confused, threatened, or slipping away. It is a common experience among believers when they go to their shacks.
We go to our shacks because we yearn for love, for relationship, for healing, or perhaps because we are desperate and there is nowhere else to go. We sign our prayers with love–”Love, Madeleine” or “Love, John Mark”—as an expression of hope. We want to love, to know love, and experience love. It is out of this yearning we pray; it is out of this love we lament.
It is with love we say “I hate you.”
The poignant irony of that last sentence is, it seems to me, the essence of honest lament in a broken world.