My life has been plagued with unanswered questions. From childhood, my questions were oftentimes my mom’s biggest annoyance. I didn’t understand why certain things happened the way they did in my life and then other people’s lives looked completely different. Why were some things harder for us and other things easier for others? Why did we never seem to get things that other people got (or we would get it really really late….like our first Nintendo in 1996) and other people got the latest thing all the time?
Life seemed really unfair and extremely frustrating. I wanted things. I wanted what other people had too. And growing up in poverty —– like poverty with an alcoholic father, mother working to support three children, the embarrassment of being on food stamps (those were the paper food coupons that were color-coded for their value that came in the little booklet, not the novelty of a debit-card lookalike), home without running water and plumbing so you had to have water drawn from the well in the front yard, weekly baths outside in the yard in a big wash tub that had water warmed by the sun for several hours so you wouldn’t get sick from bathing in cold water in warm weather, and having to break the ice over the water bucket so you can get a drink during the winter —– only intensified my frustration and the belief that life is not fair at all. And if I happened to mention anything (or have a look on my face) near my grandmother, she would always say the same thing: That’s just the way life is. There are some things you just can’t change.
My grandma always had a way with words, and her statement has stuck with me throughout my life. Coming into saving faith in Jesus Christ did little to actually stop the questions. If anything, after many years, I realized it had only intensified my frustration because I knew that God was in control. Not only that, He was sovereign, omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent. What I did not understand was why He was doing things the way He did them. And eventually (and I mean it took a LONG time), I realized that I had actually grown angry at God and was harboring bitterness and resentment against Him because I felt like my life was so much more difficult than everyone else’s, and it was not fair because I didn’t believe I deserved it. How could He have not only seen, but orchestrated and permitted all of the events in my life knowing that I would have to go through all of this? What kind of God does that?
Getting to the Root
Now, a funny thing happens when you realize and admit to yourself that you are actually angry at God, you actually stop being angry at other people and all of the circumstances that have you frustrated in the first place.
Well, truth is, when you calm down and think about things, in my case poverty, my situation was there before I arrived. Thus, my parents individually made decisions and had decisions made in their own lives that they weren’t in control of, and that happened to their parents, and their parents, and so on. And then every person who made a decision that affected their lives had others making decisions that affected their own lives. It sounds complicated, but the truth was this: I realized I was not in control of my life, and I was angry about that.
It really didn’t matter what I did or didn’t do, God was pulling the strings. If I thought I was really going to act out and mess up God’s plans, He already knew about and was already using my sinful attitude and behavior to accomplish His own purposes. If I thought that I would win His favor by being “extra” good, He dismissed it because, again, He already knew about it in advance and can’t be bought or bargained with, and He continued to accomplish His own purposes. It was maddening to deal with someone who couldn’t be “dealt” with. It made me really really angry.
What They Won’t Admit
Now, I’ll tell you something that I’ve realized over the course of my life, and that is that most Black people (I speak for my own) will not readily admit that they are angry at God.
It’s weird, almost like a taboo topic. And if someone does say something, they quickly get met with something like this: “What do you mean you angry at God? You can’t be angry at God? You’re crazy!” or “Oh, you must have forgotten yourself! He can strike you down right now!” And all of those sentiments are true, but it does quickly dismiss what a person realizes is going on in their heart. And that is really dangerous because when you dismiss the real problem, you get easily caught up focusing on a whole bunch of periphery symptoms you believe are your big problem. And it’s not. You’re just deceived and distracted.
And then, there are some people who swear they have never been angry at God, but you can quickly catch their own deception if you just ask them “If you could change anything about your life, what would it be?” I mean, you could do it yourself. What would you change about your life? What would you change about your body or your looks? What about your family? Or how about your community? Come on! What really bugs you, and if you had a chance, you would definitely change for the better?
Let’s Follow the Logic
When you talk about life being unfair, you are basing that on some set of ground rules or expectations that you believe are legitimate. Now, how you got those ground rules and expectations in the first place is a real serious unknown. I mean, maybe you’ve only seen it one way, and you have a natural preference for it. For instance, if everyone around you has always had granite countertops and a dishwasher, then you could never imagine buying a new home without granite and a dishwasher. It would be like living in the Stone Age, and that’s just not right!
Or maybe it is internally reprehensible for you to think of things any other way because it is the way you have always learned it, and you have personally invested yourself into that way so much that accepting any other way no matter how true and proven would be essentially impossible for you to do because you’d have to basically deny your very existence. Now, that may seem a little farfetched, but, and getting to the point of this blog, I think this is what we see a lot of among African-Americans today in these ongoing, but never seemingly solved, conversations about racial conflict, racial injustice, oppression, racial reconciliation, and so on.
Now, I expect this kind of stuff to be ongoing in the world today. It’s annoying, but predictable. What is blowing my mind is how prevalent I see this among African-American Christians today and the push to make it a Church-wide (but let’s be even more real because this only seems to be our problem)….an American Church-wide issue. And guilt, shame, and baseless rhetoric are being passed around faster than grandma’s macaroni and cheese at a Black family reunion.
How Will This Be Any Different?
So here I am. After agonizing for over a year, I’m going to take the next few posts to truly write from my heart about this issue. Do I really have anything substantial to add to this discourse?
Well, I think I do. Unlike a lot of people who have been the most vocal about these issues, I don’t have a background in sociology, cultural studies, anthropology, or anything else like that. My background is Economics, and my academic love is historical policy research. That means, I like studying how people rationally get what they want with what they have (economics), but I also like looking at the facts and the historical information that we have widely available but often overlook. In a nutshell, I’m not easily emotionally led when I think about African-American history, and I think we need more people like that in these conversations. Moreover, I think that studying economics and policy research prepares you to accept some hard truths because “the numbers don’t lie” (that is, unless you manipulate them to death to support something you already wanted to believe). So I’m bringing this to the table, and I really hope it helps the conversations that are going on.
Finally, I’m being completely real with myself and you. So I expect less followers, some ‘unfriending’ on Facebook, some guilt-inducing commentary, and personal attacks on my lack of ‘Blackness’….like I can lose my skin color that easily. But nevertheless, I want to be real, to use the platform I have to help diagnose a problem that I see and bring something important to the table in these discussions for everyone.
So pray my little ones let me write over the coming weeks (totally won’t happen…LOL), and please respectfully join in the conversation by leaving a comment. But, if you are acting a little special, I just won’t approve it. Let’s keep it real!