Paul stood up and began to speak: “The God of this people Israel made the people great during their stay in the land of Egypt, and with uplifted arm God led them out of it. For about forty years God put up with them in the wilderness.” – Acts 13:16-18, excerpts (NRSV)
I often wonder why God puts up with us.
We’re terribly wasteful – with the planet, with one another, with life. We’re dreadfully self-centered – in our pride, in our needs, and even in our shame. We’re easily frightened – by what is new, by what is unknown, by what is evil, and (puzzlingly) by what is good.
What kind of deity has patience for such behavior, generation after generation?
“A loving God,” is the right answer, of course. I still know my Sunday school lessons. But my lingering dissatisfaction with the right answer suggests that I’m asking the wrong question.
What kind of people continue such behavior, generation after generation?
People in pain. People in pain because of evil, and people causing pain out of evil. People carrying the unhealed pain of previous generations. People jealous of the healing others have found. People raging against everything and everyone except the pain itself.
When my kids were in elementary school, I learned to recognize that a sour attitude at home in the evening meant they had poured all their energy into keeping their composure during the school day, only melting down into a tantrum at home where it was safe to do so. For forty years in the wilderness, the ancient Israelites raged and wrestled against God, finally releasing generations of pain that they had kept tightly concealed while living under Pharaoh’s oppression.
And God put up with them.
Not because God is patient with pain. But because God is patient with healing.
Put up with me a little longer, God, in this wilderness of healing.
Rachel Hackenberg serves on the national staff for the United Church of Christ. She is the author of Writing to God and the co-author of Denial Is My Spiritual Practice, among other titles. Her blog is Faith and Water.