When God Asks If You Are Right To Be Angry…
5/31/13, Rev. Chris Rice
Jonah 3:10 “When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, he had compassion and did not bring upon them the destruction he had threatened.” (NIV)
I think the thing I most enjoy about ministry is watching God use redeemed sinners to demonstrate his compassion and loving-kindness in this world. We have many examples in the Bible of people called of God who lacked just about everything they needed to do His will, especially humility and patience. And their example can light the way back for us when we lose our zeal. The prophet Jonah, son of Amittai was used of God to bring compassion on the great Assyrian city of Nineveh. But Jonah’s service was reluctant and whether his own soul was right is an open mystery.
Let’s go to the Lord in prayer: Most merciful Heavenly Father, your compassionate love is boundless. We come to you asking for everything we need for life and godliness through your son Jesus Christ. Our sins are many, but we ask in particular that you forgive us for sloth. For not loving you with our whole hearts, for not loving our neighbors as ourselves. Forgive us for beating a hot retreat from difficult tasks instead of coming to you in prayer. Have your way in our lives. In Jesus name, Amen.
Acedia is a Latin word defined as “a state of restlessness and inability ether to work or to pray”. It is partially indifference, a bit of apathy, and some listlessness or generally lacking motivation. In English the word was translated, “sloth”. Donald Capps, Deadly Sins and Saving Virtues, says “Sloth, Wednesday’s sin, is most deadly at the midpoint of the week, when we are at greatest distance from the liturgy or the work of God of the previous and approaching Sundays and therefore the most susceptible to spiritual indifference.” (Camille L. Cook sermon, “The Jonah Syndrome”)
Jonah embodies in full measure that battle that plays out inside my head. God called him to preach and he fled from God. So God sends a storm on the boat and the only way for him to be saved is to tell the truth and surrender. He sinks into the sea and God sends a big fish to hold him in its belly. He turns to God in prayer and praise and then the fish spits him up and he is told again to go preach. Jonah preaches, the people dramatically repent in fasting, sackcloth, and ashes, and then once again Jonah is angry and wants to die. The word of the Lord comes to Jonah and says, “Are you right to be angry?”
Can you see this played out in your own life? God does amazing things, providing food and clothes and shelter for thousands here every month and some days I’m just sitting up in my office angry because one thing someone said has upset me and drained all my strength. We’re all living a miracle and yet sometimes I can’t find one thing to be grateful for. God has been working on me lately. He’s showing me the bitterness in my soul, and it’s not pretty to look at. I’ve been keeping little grudges against God, thinking he doesn’t really know what he’s doing.
There’s this prayer that I find it really hard to pray: the Peace prayer of St. Francis of Assisi. It’s where I ask God to make me an instrument of his peace, to sow love for hatred, pardon for injury, faith for doubt, hope for despair, light in the darkness, and joy for sadness. It’s hard to pray it because I’m afraid God won’t answer it. I want so bad for the hatred, injury, doubt, despair, darkness and sadness in this world to go somewhere else. I don’t want it around me. I can’t stop it.
I know that I’m going to wake up tomorrow and it will be there again. And I’m afraid that if I ask God to make me his instrument I’ll just look like this little fool, a clown in the eyes of this world. I inwardly argue with God that he needs to find some other instrument, because in all my efforts to bring love, pardon, faith, hope, light and joy, I just end up poking the hornets nest and running away. It’s like this comedy of errors, I’m a Don Quixote, chasing windmills.
Today my friends were surprised when I walked into the men’s free store and threw out a man who was yelling and cussing at two other men. I saw him grab another man and yank him aside and I yelled out, “Get this man out the door and call the police. You are not welcomed here, sir. Don’t come back.” And, out on the porch, as I talked to the other man he treated badly, I said, “I’m not gonna let people’s noses get broken and blood to flow before I put a stop to it.” He very casually replied, “It’s just gonna happen, man. You can’t stop it.” That’s my world. Trying to keep men accustomed to violence from taking each other apart.
In her book Acedia and Me, Kathleen Norris writes: “Given the state of our world, we might ask whether it is time to restore the concept of evil that it once had in Western culture. It is clear that we lack an adequate concept of evil . . . because we lack any adequate concept of good.” The danger for us and our society is that “inadequate thought and speech always translate into inadequate action.” If sloth means as John Buchanan contends, ‘not living up to the full potential of our humanity, playing it safe, investing nothing, being cautious, prudent, digging a hole and burying [our treasure],’ it is critical that we take into account what this means for society at large.”(pg. 126)
Jonah didn’t really want Nineveh to repent because he didn’t want God to be compassionate with them. The Bible tells us, “He prayed to the LORD, ‘O LORD, is this not what I said when I was still at home? That is why I was so quick to flee to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity. Now, O LORD, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live.’” (Jonah 4:2-3, NIV) This is a great picture of sloth, a soul bitterness that saps up my hope.
Sloth is losing the sight of God’s heart of compassion because the sin in the world seems just too real, to big, and too wicked. When you’re stuck in sloth God’s love is a fairy tale. To talk of the love of God is like reminding people to eat their Wheaties. What is God’s reaction to Jonah, though? The Lord is merciful to his prophet. He uses pagan sailors, wind, storm, a gourd or plant, and the sun all to teach Jonah. And Jonah’s reply is missing. Did the prophet himself repent and become a recipient of God’s mercy? I believe that if God could grant mercy to Nineveh than eventually Jonah came around too. All of this means there is hope for us as well.
The answer to being rid of the sloth in me is not to try harder, but to accept God’s compassion for myself and learn the virtue on the other side of this sin. Kathleen Norris says, “No one is exempt from anger, jealousy, greed, gluttony, lust, pride, acedia. Our job is not to deny them or run from them, but to make our way thought to the virtue on the other side. . . Acedia’s virtue is a caring expressed in thoughtful and timely acts that enhance our relationship with others. Evagrius notes that the demon of acedia manipulates both our presumption and our despair, puffing us up with thoughts of the great accomplishments we will make and then crushing us when our efforts fall short of expectations. We may be left feeling that we have gained nothing and that we were idiots to have attempted anything in the first place. Our only remedy the, he writes, is “as far as we are able [to] exalt the mercies of Christ.” (Acedia and Me, pg. 138)
When I have difficulty praying, I have to entrust myself to God’s loving care. I related earlier that I was afraid to pray the peace prayer because I fear that I will not have what I pray for. But the truth is, God is here, and He has all the peace, love, faith, pardon, and joy that this world needs. To be an instrument for God, or a channel, I don’t have to pretend to BE the answer myself. I can’t be there to break up every fight or admonish every sinner, but I can enjoy the love of Christ and share that love with others.
We all get discouraged when we try hard and yet remain misunderstood. But we have to remember, “Painful as discouragement is, it is the reverse of presumption. The humble are not surprised by their distress; it leads them to trust more, to hold fast in constancy.” (Acedia and Me, pg. 139) What I want more than the absence of injury, hatred, doubt, and despairing is to stay with Jesus on the journey until the very end. Of course that’s the last thing the devil wants. He wants us all to give up, run away, and die. Jesus says, “I am come that they may have life, and life more abundantly.” (John 10:10)
Let’s resolve to trust that everything God gives to us in this life in abundance is good, especially our sufferings. “Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.” (Rom. 5:3-5, NIV)
Please pray this prayer aloud with me:
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace,
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
Where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master,
grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled, as to console;
to be understood, as to understand;
to be loved, as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive.
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to Eternal Life.
Yours in Christ,
Rev. Chris Rice