I have loved you, says the Lord. (Malachi 1:2)
4:00 AM. I’d gone to bed only a few hours earlier, setting the alarm for 6:30. An exhausting day of packing our household goods into boxes awaited me in the morning. But after a short while of fighting the sheets and glancing at the clock every few minutes, I realized I’d not be getting any more sleep that night. The best I could hope for was to doze on and off until the alarm finally broke my misery.
I struggle with insomnia. Been fighting a discouraging and losing battle with it for years. And though I dislike using sleep medication, unless I take something at night, I wouldn’t get more than a few hours of rest.
But that night, with such an intense day facing me, my frustration grew with each passing quarter hour, and I found myself focusing my annoyance – now that I think back, it was anger – at of all people, God.
“Lord, if you don’t put me back to sleep,” I threatened (yes, that was what I was doing), “If you don’t put me back to sleep, I’m not going to read Scripture or pray when I finally get out of bed.”
I was like a two-year-old having a temper tantrum.
Most who know me well think I’m a spiritually mature Christian who knows Jesus on an intimate level. I pray and read Scripture each morning and evening. I teach a weekly Bible study, write an evangelistic blog encouraging others to walk more closely with Christ. I’ve written three books about the love of Jesus – and how to love Him back. I receive the Holy Eucharist each week at Mass and I try to live according to Biblical principles.
But there I was at four in the morning, frustrated and angry with God – and actually threatening Him that if He didn’t answer my prayer and let me fall back asleep – well, I would just show Him and thing or two!
My confession to you embarrasses me.
When I finally crawled out of bed at 5:30, I padded into the other room, plopped myself down on the couch, and opened my Bible. I’d been reading two chapters each morning for nearly four decades and I wasn’t going to stop now. Even if I was angry with God.
I should have expected what happened next. Before I got two verses into Genesis 25, I started feeling guilty about what I’d said to God a few hours earlier. Really guilty. Who do I think I am to rail at God – for any reason – but especially because He didn’t answer my prayers about going back to sleep?
To compound my sudden sense of shame, the Holy Spirit reminded me of at least a dozen Scriptures I’d memorized, Scriptures that spoke directly to my accusation against God, such as Psalm 44:17-18: All this has come upon us, but we have not forgotten You, And we have not dealt falsely with Your covenant. Our heart has not turned back, and our steps have not deviated from Your way.
And, Habakkuk 3:17-18: Although the fig tree shall not blossom, neither shall fruit be in the vines; the labor of the olive shall fail, and the fields shall yield no meat; the flock shall be cut off from the fold, and there shall be no herd in the stalls: Yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will joy in the God of my salvation.
It is, as I wrote a few paragraphs earlier, embarrassing to admit to you what I consider my significant failure. But I have a wider point to make.
Two days later, as I periodically rehearsed my temper tantrum and lingering guilt, the Holy Spirit reminded me of – of all people – St. Peter’s failure as recorded by St. Paul. You can find it in chapter two of Paul’s letter to the Galatians. St. Peter – the one chosen by Christ as the first pope – Peter played the hypocrite when faced with the choice of pleasing Christ, or pleasing his Jewish friends. In this case, Peter chose poorly. Whereas he used to pal around with the Gentile converts, when James and the other Jewish apostles visited town, Peter “held himself aloof” from the Gentiles because he was afraid of what the apostles would say. So great was his hypocrisy that even Barnabas – a man known for his benevolence – even Barnabas was swayed to choose as poorly as did Peter.
So what’s my point? I have two.
First, as well as you or I might know the Lord, as close to Him as we might be – sin is always crouching at our door, and we must be ever alert if we are to master it. Second – and I think more important – the Lord Jesus assures us in St. John’s gospel, the Father loves you and me as much as He loves Jesus (John 17:23).
It is important I say that again. The Father loves you and me as much as He loves Jesus.
That means when I – or you, or anyone who is a child of God through faith in Christ’s blood atonement – when I get frustrated with God, and even when I get angry with Him – He loves me as much as He loves Jesus.
And when you sin, He nevertheless loves you just as much as He loves Jesus.
Remorse for our sins is a good thing. A necessary thing. Remorse should lead us to confession, and confession always cleanses away the dirt. Perhaps the Psalmist said it best when he wrote:
The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in lovingkindness . . . He has not dealt with us according to our sins, nor rewarded us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is His lovingkindness toward those who fear Him. As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us.
Just as a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear Him. For He Himself knows our frame; He is mindful that we are but dust. (Psalm 103:8-14)
And so, Oh, God, help us ever remember your compassion toward us – even though we angrily accuse you. And help us remember to leave our guilt and remorse in the confessional and get back to doing the work you’ve called us to do. Amen.