Angry at God?

Over the past few years, I’ve increasingly heard people talking about being angry at God, having permission to be angry at Him and needing to forgive Him.  Before delving into a debate about can we and should we be angry at God, it is worth pausing to recognise that for some people, the expression of anger and distress at God arises out of intense loss and suffering.  We live in a world where horrific and brutal stuff happens. For someone who has lived through the trauma of bullying, abuse, chronic illness, poverty and injustice, anger is a deeply natural response. Furthermore, it is a sad truth that many people have experienced such abuse and injustice within the context and at the hands of the church.

May I also gently observe, that for a number of people expressing this complaint, the above isn’t true.  They have had their fair share of ups and downs. They will have been through tough periods but no more or less than anyone else. Indeed, in my experience, those who have suffered the most seem least likely to address a complaint to God and are more likely to speak of his goodness.

The first thing to say about anger at God is that anger itself is not a sin.  The words of Psalm 4:4,“Be angry and do not” have often been misremembered as suggesting that in order not to sin, we must not be angry.  However, the warning is not about anger itself but about the dangers it possesses. Anger can become an opportunity for sin if we lose self-control or if we allow it to settle into bitterness. However, the right response to the abuse, pain, suffering and injustice identified above is anger.  It is right to be angry about racism. It is right to be angry when we hear about wicked abuse of vulnerable people.  It is right to be angry at the pain and distress that death brings. We can say this because Jesus expresses anger at hypocrisy, injustice and abuse. We can say this because God himself is described as angry at evil (Romans 1:18). The problem is not with anger but with what we do with it.

And there lies the problem. Why should we be angry at God? It is sometimes suggested that the Psalms give us permission to be angry at him and the words to use.  However, when we turn to the Psalms we find that this isn’t quite the case. The Psalmist will express distress and anger at evil around him, he will pleas his own case and his innocence. He will express even a sense of injustice and of being deserted, abandoned by God at times. However, notice that he does not presume to express anger at God. Furthermore, we need to see the complete picture in each Psalm. If there is an expression of distress within a Psalm then that is usually corrected as the Psalmist gains greater insight into God’s purpose and character. 

Take a look at Psalm 73, Asaph almost stumbles as he becomes distressed at the wickedness around him.  However, as he turns his eyes on the Lord, he discovers afresh that God is good to his people and that he can trust in Him.

Anger at God suggests that it is God who has failed, he is the one who has let us down. Yet everything we know about God points to his goodness, his love and his beauty.  Anger at Him is an expression of doubt in his good plans. The Bible tells us that:

“we know that for those who love God all things work together for good,[a] for those who are called according to his purpose.”[1]

Joseph discovered this when his brothers sold him into slavery in Egypt. It may have at times felt like God was harming him. However, we are constantly reminded through the narrative that God was at work in Joseph’s life and that his purpose was to bring salvation from the famine. So, Joseph concludes:

“As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people[b] should be kept alive, as they are today”[2]

See as well that this is Joseph speaking to his brothers, the ones who in jealousy had plotted to kill him, had sold him into slavery and had lied to their father claiming he was dead.    He has every right to be angry at them and seek justice but instead, knowing God’s goodness and purpose enables him to forgive them.

So then, anger at God is first of all directed at the wrong person. The cause of our distress is human wickedness and sin. This is first of all because all have sinned and so the penalty of death includes living in a fallen world that includes pain and suffering. Secondly, we have to take responsibility and acknowledge our own failings that at times get us into trouble so that suffering may well be self inflicted. Thirdly, we recognise that suffering is caused by the wilful acts of others who seek our harm.

Furthermore, recognising these things enables us not to remain in anger but to learn to forgive. This is possible first of all because we see that God has used the circumstances for good. The experience may have been painful but God has brought fruit out of it. Secondly, we know that God will bring justice to unrepentant evil doers. There is future hope of vindication. Thirdly we remember that God has not treated us as our sins deserve. We should rightly be subject to his wrath but he has shown great mercy and compassion, sending Jesus to take away our sin and provide forgiveness and reconciliation.

Is there something that you have held against God and blamed him for. Take time now to pray asking for his forgiveness and healing.

[1] Romans 8:28

[2] Genesis 50:20.

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