If You Want to Have Intimacy with God, Start Venting
So Moses asked the Lord, “Why have you brought such trouble on your servant? Why are you angry with me, and why do you burden me with all these people? Did I conceive all these people? Did I give them birth so you should tell me, ‘Carry them at your breast, as a nanny carries a baby,’ to the land that you swore to give their fathers?… I can’t carry all these people by myself. They are too much for me. If you are going to treat me like this, please kill me right now if I have found favor with you, and don’t let me see my misery anymore.” (Num. 11:11-15, CSB)
Moses is pissed off; Moses is letting God know.
I once believed in a god I had better restrain my emotions around. Feelings couldn’t be trusted: “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?” (Jer. 17:9, KJV)
Yet reading the life of Moses I read:
“So Moses went back to the Lord and asked, “Lord, why have you caused trouble for this people? And why did you ever send me?” (Exod. 5:22)
Moses is steamed; Moses is letting God know.
“Then Moses became angry and said to the Lord, “Don’t respect their offering. I have not taken one donkey from them or mistreated a single one of them.” (Num. 16:15)
Moses is riled; Moses is letting God know.
And I also read:
“The Lord would speak with Moses face to face, just as a man speaks with his friend.” (Exod. 33:11a)
This is the secret I’ve learned: If you want to have intimacy with God, start venting.
He can take it.
Then shut your mouth and be still.
Unlike the people of Israel, Moses listens after his complaints. God responds.
For me, God does not respond in direct speech, but rather in the silence, a quiet wrestling within myself, the Holy Spirit groaning for me (Rom. 8:26).
Am I right to be angry? Maybe not, but emotions tell me something—that I have fear, regret, resentment—that I need to lay them all out before God so I can hear beyond them.
There is good anger, just anger, like when Moses is “enraged” at the Israelites’ rejection of God and shatters his first set of stone tablets (Exod. 32:19); then there is anger God himself is disappointed in. When Moses was to speak to the rock but instead struck it (Num. 20:11), I have to wonder if he should have told God how he was feeling first.
Because it’s God who somehow works out in me any ability I have to hold anger well—to not always act on it. To be present to those I’m angry with and remember their fallibility—and mine, too.
Outside of my daily interactions, I’m grieved by injustice and agony in the world. I’m sick of watching people expire by cancer or of hearing of another person debilitated by Lyme’s disease. I’m fed up with stories of child abuse, of immigrants not being given a fair shot, of people starving in Sudan.
There is Someone immense to take away this pain…so why doesn’t he?
I am the one riled; I am the one letting God know.
I vent, and I listen. Sometimes I need a third party—a counselor or spiritual director—to help me listen.
And when life is at its dimmest, I can say, with the end of Psalm 88, “You have distanced loved one and neighbor from me; darkness is my only friend.” A lament psalm with no resolution at the end. There is no praise or confident statement of God’s provision: in some situations the fullness of justice and love will not be seen until Christ’s return.
What matters now is that we’ve come to vent and to listen.
Along with being a mother to two young and remarkably different daughters, Heather Walker Peterson is a member of Redbud Writers Guild and Chair of the Department of English and Literature at University of Northwestern-Saint Paul.