Not to us, O Lord, not to us, but to your name give glory, for the sake of your steadfast love and your faithfulness. Why should the nations say, "Where is their God?" - Psalm 115:1-2
"You know I support you, but some people are saying…" With words like these, many a pastor's day was ruined. (If you've passed along anonymous criticism, wrap yourself soundly on the knuckles and say 10 Our Fathers. Then come back and finish this devotion.)
In the UCC Pension Boards' Next Generation Leadership Initiative, I was taught to listen past the specific content of criticism to its relational context. Not to get hooked by a particular complaint, but to hear the speaker's deeper intent.
"Thanks for believing in me enough to trust me with this criticism," is the kind of non-anxious thing I'm supposed to remember to say.
And it's true. It takes a kind of belief to share our disappointment. Belief that the other person cares. That they want to do better. That they have the capacity to change.
The psalmist delivers just such a back-handed compliment to God.
"I've always thought of you as faithful and steadfast. I don't know why these other nations keep asking, ‘Where is their God?' Things are lousy for your people. And some are saying you don't care; you aren't powerful; maybe you don't exist. I thought you'd want to know."
I think of the times I've been disappointed by God. Moments of great pain or great evil that seemed to go unanswered. And I wonder why I didn't have the faith to question.
Things are lousy, God. And some people are saying you don't care. You won't act. You don't exist. I thought you'd want to know.
Vince Amlin is co-pastor of Bethany UCC, Chicago, and co-planter of Gilead Church Chicago, forming now.