…but in a few minutes I’ll be sad. And then a few minutes later I’ll be scared. And then a few minutes after that I’ll be okay.
I was angry when I took that picture of the church. It was the day Governor Whitmer's executive order was signed that effectively closed our doors until at least April 13. I was angry that the virus and the response to it were attacking the holiest time of the Christian year. I was sad that, for the first time in this building's 21 years there would be no Good Friday proclamation of "It is finished" and the bright alleluias of Easter. That day, I felt so many things as I made preparations to move everything online for at least a few weeks. As I closed the building, I prayed for the people whose shelter this is from the earthly storms. I prayed this would end quickly. I prayed (as I still do every day) that God preserves our faith through this pandemic.
If anything, this is a time of wildly fluctuating emotions. We experience practically every emotion every day as this pandemic unfolds, as we wait for the curve to flatten (or to peak?), as we listen to yet another press conference or read another executive order. Life is incredibly unpredictable. Everything normal has been ripped away.
Kids have had the last third of their school year together taken away. Accomplishments will go unrecognized. Hard work put into music, theatre, and art will go unseen. Practices and strength training and the like will not get put on display on the field. Teachers’ well-made plans are being scrapped for all new plans that can be executed at home with some online interaction. It’s really awful. Nothing can make that pain go away with the snap of a finger,
What we’re really experiencing is grief. We are suffering a loss, not at all unlike a death. The situation in which we find ourselves is very much like a death. We aren’t able to see friends, coworkers, students, and others we were used to seeing every day. Anticipated events are being rescheduled, postponed, or cancelled. The overlap is noticeable. Just as death robs us of anticipated moments with a loved one, the coronavirus has robbed us of so many things. What we’re experiencing is a series of tragedies and losses.
So it’s only natural that there’s a healthy dose of anger in our lives and it finds expression in various ways. But, how do we, as Christians, approach this?
Anger is natural, but not helpful in the long run.
First, we have to see that, while anger is natural, it’s not helpful. There are reasons why Scripture so often warns us against anger:
“Cease from anger, and forsake wrath; do not fret—it only causes harm.” (Psalm 37:8)
“So then, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath; for the wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God.” (James 1:19-20)
“But now you yourselves are to put off all these: anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy language out of your mouth.” (Colossians 3:8)
But the most eye-opening writing about anger is from St. Paul’s Epistle to the Ephesians: “Be angry, and do not sin: do not let the sun go down on your wrath, nor give an opportunity to the devil” (Eph 4:26-27).
Holding onto and harboring anger will only make things worse. It can cause us to say hurtful things, to break Commandments, and to live in ways we know are not good for us. Anger is just as infectious as this virus. It spreads from one person to another and, before you know it, everyone around you is angry.
Finding Godly Expression
If Scripture certainly has something to say about being angry, it certainly has a way to work through that anger. One of the first places to look is the Second Commandment. There God tells us not to misuse His name. That means there is a good use of His name. As Luther explains it in the Small Catechism: “We should fear and love God so that we do not curse, swear, use satanic arts, lie, or deceive by His name, but call upon it in every trouble, pray, praise, and give thanks.”
Focus on that last phrase again: We should “call upon [God’s Name] in every trouble, pray, praise, and give thanks.” This is where prayer comes in. When you’re angry, pray! That prayer does not have to be in polished words that sound like they have come from a prayer book. When God said “Call upon Me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you will glorify Me” (Psalm 50:15), He knew that not every call would be poised and elegant. He knows what cries of distress sound like: they are panicked and raw. God wants to hear from you! He means what He says.
And, do you remember what one of God’s attributes is? It’s omniscience, meaning He knows all things. He knows you’re angry, so why hide it? Why tell Him everything is okay when it isn’t? Tell Him that you’re angry that the plans you made for the rest of the school year, things you were looking forward to, have been trashed. Tell Him you’re deeply hurt that the memories you hoped to make at events coming up won’t be made, or will look far different than expected. Confide in Him. He is your loving Father. He wants you to tell Him how you feel. He wants to comfort you. He wants to reassure you that He is God, that He is all-powerful (omnipotent), and that He is the best teacher. He has your (eternal) best interest in mind.
Read the Psalms
The way God gives you comfort is through His holy Word and Sacraments. So, spend some time in the Word. The Psalms are especially comforting in these times, as they give voice to so many Christian experiences: anger, repentance, sorrow, and praise.
There is an entire category of Psalms that can give voice to our anger, helping us to voice it and move past it. These Psalms are called the Imprecatory Psalms, from the word “imprecate,” which means to invoke evil on someone or to utter curses. Psalms 5, 6, 11, 12, 35, 37, 40, 52, 54, 56, 58, 69, 79, 83, 109, 137, and 143 are the Psalms that fit this category. David and the other writers ask God to use His righteous wrath and judgment against their enemies.
How can a Christian do this, asking God to pour out His wrath? As you read the Imprecatory Psalms, you find that the author never executes the desired outcome himself. He simply vents his anger, expressing to God the rage he feels and commits the cause to God. In this way, the Imprecatory Psalms are in keeping with Deuteronomy 32:35: “Vengeance is Mine, and recompense.” The speaker knows that God will do what is best and according to His will.
Another type of Psalm that is fitting for this time is that which gives voice to lament and mourning. So many Psalms express sorrow over losses of various types, whether it is death, the ability to go about freely, or the ability to know joy and peace. But these Psalms always come back to confidence in God. Consider Psalm 3. David is mourning that Absalom, his son, is trying to kill him. But even in that time of mourning and fear, David says “You, O Lord, are a shield for me, my glory and the one who lifts up my head. I cried to the Lord with my voice, and He heard me from His holy hill.” David, though running for his life, is confident in God. This is a good lesson for us, but also a fitting prayer of confidence in God’s fatherly care.
Finally, Psalms of repentance are also fitting. We lament our sinful condition and the sorry state of our world. We repent for personal sins and pray that our nation would come to repentance for its sins as well. We know that we deserve far more than what we are currently experiencing. We pray that God would, in His mercy, bring us to repentance and would bring a swift end to the pandemic.
Make use of the Sacraments
Even though we are in a strange time, the Sacraments are still there for you!
First, remember your Baptism. You are Baptized into Christ! Because of that, your future is certain. You have nothing to fear eternally because Jesus’ death and resurrection have been made yours. You can live confidently in this day and this life, knowing that you have been joined to the Triune God. He is your God, and you are His child. He loves you with a love greater than any parental love this world could ever know. He holds you in the palm of His hand.
The Lord’s Supper is also a food and benefit for you in this time. It gives strength when you are weak. Though we are not holding regular Divine Services at this time, I am glad to meet with you to give you Holy Communion. Just like your body can’t exist without food, your soul cannot either. The Word is certainly a filling and wholesome food, but this is the other food your Lord wants to give you. I’m glad to give it to you when you want it!
And, Confession and Absolution are always available. The rite offered in Lutheran Service Book is an excellent way to make a general confession of sin and have absolution pronounced, and it’s also a good way to relieve yourself of a specific burden, if one is weighing you down. Just like Communion, I’m always available for this as well.
This is a difficult time. Know that I am praying with you and for you. I pray God gives you peace and strength as you experience anger, sadness, grief, and every other emotion. He will see you through. He has promised, and He always keeps His promises.
This is the question we all ask when we see something different, especially in church. Why are we using white instead of red? Why does this day have a name? Why did the Pastor do what he just did?