I’m so pleased to introduce you today to my new friend, Matt Bays. I connected with him back when I posted my book trailer for Night Driving, and then I sobbed through his book trailer for his new book Finding God in the Ruins: How God Redeems Pain. (I’ve added it at the bottom of this post…but get the Kleenex before you start watching it.)
I had the honor of meeting him in real life at the Festival of Faith and Writing last month, and he’s just as genuine and kind and down to earth as he sounds in this post.
I haven’t read his book yet, but I’ve heard nothing but amazing things about it. Read his stunning piece below, and then pick up his book here!
If pain is God’s megaphone to rouse a deaf world, my middle finger is a megaphone to rouse a deaf God.
Before you freak. Before you call me blasphemous, know that I’ve heard it before. And besides, I think it’s time we all got a little more honest with God.
Because of abuse, incest, children being set on fire by their fathers, suicide, the straight jacket of depression, disease, mental illness, rape, and…
Should I go on? Because I easily could.
Each one of those words has a hundred thousand stories attached to it. So take a good hard look at that list. Get real quiet for a moment, and then say a prayer that your heart would finally understand the person who sticks their middle finger up into the face of God. Let an empathetic sigh part your lips before you offer one word of judgment.
He seems angry.
I am angry.
I’m worried about his faith.
I appreciate your concern.
I’m going to pray for him.
Yes. Thank you.
Who does he think he is?
An abused child, that’s who.
An incest survivor.
A brotherless brother.
A recovering addict.
And…a son of God.
This is me when I was in the middle of all the terrible. This is me in second grade.
Looks like a good day, doesn’t it? Look at that sweet face. The shine of those dark brown eyes. That right there is a good boy. A lot of love and compassion for others. Sensitive. Almost always happy. A ball of energy.
This is the problem of pain; on the outside things seem fine. But on the inside, the lies scratch around like a dog trying get comfortable at the end of the bed, settling in for a lifetime, which is exactly what happened to me.
It’s no wonder that I was angry with God.
It’s no wonder that people walk away from their faith altogether.
And because our churches and church leaders have failed to provide a safe place to express our anger or talk about our pain, before the age of reason, we drink ourselves silly. Or sit in front of a computer screen exchanging intimacy for intensity. Or go from broken relationship to broken relationship. Or shop until we literally drop, control everything in our path, exercise until we’re rail thin, or eat as much as we can, hoping to fill the great void we’ve been carrying around for decades.
We force our faces into a lie every waking moment of every day.
But the years roll on, the pain is still there, and we haven’t the first clue how to get rid of it.
That’s how it happened for me.
That’s when I realized that God was worthy of my middle finger.
Sounds bad, right? Blasphemous. Or maybe just ridiculous. I was a man of God, after all. A worshipper. A pastor.
But the lies; my life was filled with them. I just couldn’t utter them any longer.
That boy up there – that little second grade sweetheart…he wasn’t trying to pull a fast one on God. He wasn’t planning to grow up and showcase a veneer that didn’t match his insides. He didn’t know that living a life of spiritual clichés was dangerous. And he wasn’t warned that an unhealed past would eventually track him down.
But it did track him down. It will, you know. It always does.
We have tried desperately to recover, haven’t we? Spent ages doing our best to be okay.
We are thirty…
Fifty years old.
We have lost years of happiness, years of peace, self-love, and self-acceptance. And now it’s time, beyond time, to BE HONEST with God.
And perhaps our middle finger is the most authentic tool in our honesty arsenal.
Because a middle finger says, “That was wrong. What were you thinking?”
A middle finger says, “I’m not okay. I’ve never been okay.”
A middle finger says, “TAKE IT BACK!”
But do you know what else a middle finger says? It says…
I deserve peace. I deserve faith. I deserve hope, I deserve…
To be loved.
I know how people feel about this kind of theory. I grew up in an evangelical Christian church, and giving God the finger is certainly not how we were raised.
The buttoned up Christian generally prefers a God who carries gold stars in his back pocket and ruffles our hair whenever he passes by. But God is not a kindergarten teacher. His job isn’t to make our dreams come true. His job is to redeem the world, and to do it…
In my new book, Finding God in the Ruins, one of my favorite passages says this:
“In some ways it is devastating to tell God all you wish he had done differently, saved you from, or converted you into. But when the God of your church of origin gives you the same remedial cliché for your pain time and time again, there’s not a thing wrong with sticking your middle finger right in his face. You might think this kind of bad spiritual behavior will cause you to lose your faith altogether—that you’ll end up losing sight of God. But maybe the moment you flip God the bird is the exact moment he looks into your eyes and says, “Well done, my good and faithful servant.”
The night I wrote the last sentence of that paragraph, I had tears in my eyes. You know why? Because I love God, deeply and passionately. I love him so much that I’ve devoted my life to his children who have lived their lives beneath the overpass of life, waiting for something unpainful to happen. I cried because brutal honesty with God is nothing short of holiness, and writing those words created a sacred moment in my living room that was palpable.
So I cried. Because I love God. Because I gave God the finger.
Listen, I spent years wasting away in alcoholism, doing everything I could do to ease the pain. But God’s plan for healing is to get to the root of things, not simply treat the symptoms. And digging up the root will always bring us to the end of ourselves, because it’s painful before it’s peaceful.
When it comes to true healing, God is painful. God burns. God goes down like whiskey and you can’t chase him down with water.
You don’t have to like it. I sure didn’t. But telling God the truth about how we feel along the way, that’s what keeps things REAL. That’s what keeps things honest.
Honest to God.
God can handle your honesty. He has broad shoulders. He’s not afraid of you. And for the record, when you show your anger to God, I hope you realize that you are in good company with Job, King David, and others. You won’t be the first to rage against God and still be considered his child. So take heart, my friend. You are going to be okay.
The opening line of this blog article included a portion of a quote from the C.S. Lewis book, The Problem of Pain. I want to share that quote in its entirety.
“We can ignore even pleasure. But pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”
God shouts, my friend, right into our lives. Maybe it’s time we started shouting back.