The Freedom to Speak

I grew up in a time when it was said that children were to be seen and not heard. We weren’t invited into conversations with adults. We didn’t express opinions. We certainly did not, ever, disagree with an adult or tell them we didn’t like what they were doing, even if we didn’t like it. It wasn’t done.

That’s one of the reasons I am fascinated with so much of the Old Testament. It shows people talking to God, and not only talking but complaining, disagreeing, and lamenting about how God is running things.  And remarkably, God listens. He not only listens, but He also seems to invite the whole thing. The Bible is full of examples.

There is Abraham minding his own business at his tents when Strangers, on their way to take a look at Sodom, detour to sit in his tent for some shade and for a meal. They eventually rise and go but then turn back to let Abraham in on what’s really going on. Sodom will burn. Something remarkable happens. Little Abraham stands before God. He asks “Will not the God of the whole earth do right?” implying that God isn’t doing the right thing. Abraham, remarkably, survives the whole experience and even more remarkably has an impact on the plans of God. There’s Jacob wrestling with an unknown Other, battered and broken and bruised, then hearing the Other say Jacob had wrestled with God and with men and had won. He’d won. Jeremiah complains that God had overpowered him in making him a prophet. The Psalms pitch back and forth between praise and plaintive wondering where in the world God has gone.  Job raises complaints against the Almighty to an all-time high.

God, unlike our parents, invites this. Why? Because it’s conversation; it gives him a chance to answer. When we keep silent there is no communication, no conversation. And that’s a problem. The biggest reason it’s a problem is this: we were made for connection with God.  If we fail to speak to Him, with our praises, with our problems, even with complaints, we violate our reason for existing. We choose to be alone rather than in a relationship. That aloneness, separating from God, is like choosing hell instead of heaven.

I cannot tell you what answer God will give to your complaint. The prophets often hear, “fear not, for I am with you.” The answer Jeremiah receives to his complaint is to toughen up. Life will get even harder. And it did,  but God was with him. Job is given no direct answer to his complaint but is shown how far beyond mere answers God is. God shows him how wild and vast and unknowable the world is and says, “You don’t like how I run it? You want to take your shot? Of course, Job is humbled. He’s then exalted and given the position of being the one man who can talk to God and alter God’s plans.  How will God answer you? I cannot say but I can say that whenever you bring to God whatever is in you, you are heard. You are listened to and sometimes your words and thoughts are included in the plans of God, and you are elevated to a high position. You become a friend of God, his partner, someone he carries on a conversation with. And that is why you were born.