I may be overanxious, but prayer kind of scares me.
Does any other person of faith feel at least a little nervous speaking to the creator of the universe? Heck, I get flustered interacting with random people on the Internet. Speaking to the Lord God Almighty is a good deal more intimidating. I mean, he made the starry heavens! He designed trees and molecules and wombats! He created coffee! (I believe coffee is the clearest ontological proof of God’s goodness.) I mean, seriously, the greatness of God is immeasurable, and it makes me nervous.
Yes, I know God loves me. Christian culture tends to emphasize the kindness, love and gentleness of Christ, sometimes to the point at which it forgets his harsher words and actions.
I generally make the opposite mistake. I remember the Lord Jesus brandishing a whip, killing trees and calling people snakes. I recall all those times in the Old Testament God pronounced curses on people and struck them dead.
When I pray, I sometimes can’t shake the feeling that God hears my prayers with the divine equivalent of a grumpy expression.
Why do I struggle with this faint, annoying fear that God is a celestial grouch?
I suppose it’s because I’m painfully aware of my own faults, and not always forgiving towards the faults of others. It’s easy for me to assume that God, being absolutely perfect, is even less tolerant of our sins and failures. If I were God—which, fortunately for the universe, I am not—I wouldn’t be very gracious or patient.
Thus I often have what C.S. Lewis called a “vague, though uneasy, feeling that [I haven’t] been doing very well lately.” This uneasiness makes me reluctant to pray or practice other spiritual commitments. It’s easier for me to bury my anxiety in unnecessary busywork, pointless procrastination or random YouTube videos. Quoth Lewis, “All humans at nearly all times have some such reluctance; but when thinking of [God] involves facing and intensifying a whole vague cloud of half-conscious guilt, this reluctance is increased tenfold.”
It was last week I was reminded, and not for the first time, that praying badly is better than not praying at all. “Next to trying and winning,” as I often say, “the best thing is trying and failing.” When I feel far from God, keeping my distance probably won’t help.
As for God being a grump, well, that’s nonsense. There’s a famous verse in the thirty-fourth chapter of Exodus. God appears in this passage and, being a gentleman, introduces himself: “The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness.”
These words are echoed throughout the rest of the Bible, and the “slow to anger” part jumped out at me as I read Psalm 145 yesterday: “The Lord is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and rich in love.” He responds with compassion, not contempt; grace, not disgust; gentleness, not grouchiness.
If God is truly gracious, compassionate and slow to anger, I think it’s safe to say he is not a grump.