So I’m annoyed this morning. I’m in Day Three of a weeklong summit for my team at work. (Aside: when did meetings all become summits?) This has all been frustrating. I am a member of a software development group that has had to mostly cowboy-develop so that they can meet short-fused (read: unrealistic) deadlines from users. When a user finds a problem, they call or email the developer, who then fixes it and deploys the “fixed” software to the server… where it may or may not work, and may or may not have broken something else. The change to the software isn’t being managed or controlled, and the fixes aren’t being planned and coordinated… yet. Some of those problem fixes might actually be enhancements or new features, but the requirements weren’t clearly identified before design and development started, so we don’t really know the difference between a new feature and one that should have been in the software all along. We know we need to be more disciplined, and this has been discussed several times. Probably the hardest part of this is that we have to educate our customers in what this means – i.e., they won’t get their problems fixed and deployed immediately, but according to a planned schedule… unless, of course, the problem is an absolute emergency with no workaround – and we have to have a manager who is willing to push back at customer demands that we break that discipline.
So the company has brought in a project manager, who brought with him a software development lifecycle methodology that says all the right things. It looks great on paper. Of course, any methodology must be tailored and tweaked to meet the environment. The problem is that each time we suggest a tailoring or a tweak, this project manager digs in his heels, saying “That isn’t what the lifecycle says, so we can’t do it that way!” Okay, then let’s tailor the lifecycle. “No, we can’t do that, because that isn’t what the lifecycle says.” After about an hour of this, I’m ready to bang my head on the conference table, but then I might get keyboard face.
From a political perspective, upper management is pushing hard for our group to develop in a more disciplined way, so we can’t afford for this project manager to go back to them and say we’re being uncooperative or hostile to his approach. At the same time, we need the approach to work for us… and we have software engineers on the team who are perfectly capable of laying out a methodology, and who have the domain-specific knowledge to do this without alienating the rest of the team. So… I’m frustrated, annoyed, and occasionally even angry.
And the question I started to ponder, when I was too annoyed to focus on our meeting any more, was where is God in all of this? Where is God in my frustration and anger? How do I find God when I’m so caught up in these feelings? My first answer was, well warriormare, God is in the mere fact that you wondered where God is. Like most things that are obvious and almost a truism, this holds Truth, but I know it isn’t the whole story. I know that the whole story exists in layers that we can peel back, to keep finding more and more Truth, until we get to the kernel that is God.
As a Christian, I tend to turn to the gospels first, and then usually go to the psalms for further insight. There are some stories in the gospels that reveal Jesus in anger.
I think first of Jesus entering the Temple in Jerusalem – the holiest place in the world, according to his people – and finding in the entryway merchants selling doves for people to purchase for sacrifices, to cleanse them of their sins. In addition, there were moneychangers doing business in there, since Roman coins were considered unclean, so they must be changed to coins that were acceptable for donation and sacrifice in the Temple. Of course, these merchants and moneychangers weren’t there in the Temple to be altruistic – they were there to make a profit. And hoo boy were they making a profit, there in the lobby to God’s house… until they ticked off Jesus. Can you picture him? Dark hair, flashing brown eyes, his mouth scowling as he used legs strengthened and hardened by walking through Israel and powerful carpenter arms to overturn table after table. Jesus was angry.
I’m sure he was angry about other things, too, though the stories we read in the bible today were probably cleaned up a bit. When I think about the Pharisees trying to trap Jesus in logical arguments, and the confounding responses Jesus would give… I’m can just see him walking away from those encounters, biting back curses at the willful blindness and stubbornness that these men showed, the lack of care and compassion that they continued to display to their brothers and sisters in Israel, not to mention the nasty Samaritans or even the Gentiles. As a very clever, very strong-willed person, I’m sure Jesus was a handful as a child, too, and chafed against some of the rules handed to him by Mary and Joseph, by the authorities in the temples and synagogues, by the stubborn adherence to laws that served to hurt the children of God. Change is so often born out of anger, out of pain, out of suffering, and we know that Jesus set into motion great changes in the world.
The psalms contain every emotion a human being has ever felt – happiness, anger, sadness, joy, love, despair, frustration, gratitude – and express these very poignantly, sometimes even sarcastically. There are plenty of stories of anger in the bible, both on the part of humans and on the part of God. The great flood, anyone? How about the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah? Or perhaps… were these stories explanations of events too might for the understanding of those who lived in these times? Was anger attributed to God falsely? Did Jesus exhibit anger because he was a human being, and thus subject to the brokenness of humanity? Or does God truly experience anger with us, God’s children?
I often think of anger as a human failing, as part of the human condition, the brokenness of this world, so it amazes me to think of God being angry. I mean, anger isn’t nice – it doesn’t feel good – and though it may spur us to action, it certainly isn’t the kind of feeling we want to imagine in our God. After all, who wants to consider the idea of an all-knowing, all-powerful being who is angry with… me? I’ll freely admit that I don’t like thinking about this, because I know I’ve done (or not done) and said (or not said) hundreds – if not thousands – of things that would probably make God angry. I’ve yelled at my children when they really didn’t deserve it. I’ve hurt people, whether I’ve meant to or not, and there are plenty of times when I haven’t fed the hungry and given shelter to the homeless and given clothes to those who have none. I have never set foot in a jail, so I certainly can’t claim to have visited those in prison. All those things Jesus told us to do? Nuh-uh. And the simplest of commandments – love God, and love your neighbor – heck, I have a hard time with that one, too! So yeah, God certainly is well within God’s rights to be angry with me.
Given that, how does God deal with God’s frustration and annoyance and anger now? Our canonical scriptures end around the year one hundred, but that doesn’t mean that the story of God’s people ended there. Rather, Episcopalians profess to believe that within the words designated as canonical scriptures, you can find everything you need to live in right relationship with God. At the crucifixion, the sky turned black and the Temple collapsed, as God in the body of a human being left this world. Were these signs of God’s anger, or merely side effects of the death of Jesus? Then later came the Resurrection, and Jesus spent time working with and teaching his apostles, and then Jesus became one with God’s glory and “ascended” to heaven. A few days later, the Holy Spirit came to dwell with us, to live in and around and through us, to give us guidance and comfort and indwelling divine fire. These are amazing gifts, hardly evidence of anger on God’s part. Is it possible that God actually changed? That God learned to use God’s anger to bring positive change about in this world, rather that destruction? Or is it possible that God never truly acted out of anger to begin with?
I won’t pretend to have the answers. These are some fun questions to bat around, to take one side for a time and then to debate from the other side of the argument. I don’t think that we can know the answers to these questions in this world, and we may not be privy to the answers in God’s kingdom, either. So now I’m stuck back where I was when I started. What does this frustration mean to me? What is my anger telling me? How can I use this anger to bring about the changes I want to see, rather than allowing the anger to control me and bring a path of destruction?
Hrmph. I guess I have some more thinking to do. But first, I think I need some chocolate. Peace be with you!