God Isn't Looking for Brown-Nosers

Christianity is easily twisted into spiritualized etiquette. Like good little boys and girls, we learn how properly to eat at the Lord’s table. We learn how respectfully to address him. We learn how politely to carry on a conversation with him.

You don’t like what he dishes out?
Too bad. Clean your plate and ask for seconds.

You don’t feel like shaking his hand?
Do it anyway and smile at him like there’s no one else you’d rather be meeting.

God seems cold and rude to you?
Shrug it off and put the best construction on it.
Just never tell him exactly what's on your mind.

@@Such religious etiquette teaches that nothing pleases God more than a fake.@@

Naomi was no fake. Her parents had given her a name that means "pleasant." But her life had been anything but pleasant. She and her family were forced into exile by famine. There her husband died, then a son, then her other son.

She who bore the name Pleasant bore her whole family to the graveyard.

When Naomi returned from exile, widowed and childless, she laments to her former neighbors, “Do not call me Pleasant; call me Bitter, for the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me,” (Ruth 1:20).

Suffering strips off the masks we wear when speaking to God. Hear Naomi unmasked, “The Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me.” Or as she says to her daughters-in-law, “The hand of the Lord has gone forth against me," (1:13). 

For Naomi, there are no fancy theological distinctions between God’s consequent and antecedent will; no attribution of her suffering to Satan, that ever-handy scapegoat; not a hint that her losses are part of the raw reality of life in a fallen world. 

No, Naomi thinks that God has ruined her life. And she’s not afraid to say it.

@@A relationship with God that has no room for brutal honesty is no relationship at all.@@ It's a fake faith. God is not protected or honored when his children give no voice to the pain they experience at his hands. Indeed, the complaint is itself a confession of faith. People don't complain to a God they don't believe in.

Faith does not require that we always Hoorah what the Lord does. God wants children, not brown-nosers. 

Faith is the kind of trust that can tell our Father how much he’s hurt us, abandoned us, ripped away our deepest loves—and still know he is our Father.

There is more to the story of Naomi than the sad parts. But we know that. At the time, Naomi didn’t. It's the same with our lives, or the lives of our friends and family. 

Five years down the road, for instance, your friend who buried her husband earlier this year, whose daughter is a meth addict, and who was just diagnosed with breast cancer—in five years she may be happily remarried, see her daughter’s life turned around, and have a clean bill of health.

But she's aware of none of that now. Today all she knows is a heart ripped to shreds. To tell her that God causes all things to work together for the good of those who love him is true, but I doubt it is profitable. Not yet anyway. 

Now she needs, like Naomi, to speak the truth to the God who can handle the truth. And in time, he will answer her, as only a Father can.

The most honest prayer ever uttered was by a condemned man. He cried out in his death agonies, "My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me?"

Jesus was answered, three days later, when he looked over his shoulder at the grave he had just vacated. That suffering man cries out still in us, for us, and through us to the God who raised him--and us in him--from the dead.