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The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

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Getting angry with God

Right type of anger has rightful place in our lives — just don’t let it fester

We all have challenging conversations with other people, sometimes even our best friends. But there is another partner in life with whom we wrestle and spar on a regular basis — namely, God. To enjoy a deep relationship with the Lord means we get to express candor, pose tough questions, and be our unabashedly human selves. We get to experience the full range of human emotions without any fear of reprisal. 

No pretense is necessary in the company of this one who discerns “my thoughts from far away,” and who is “acquainted with all my ways” (Psalm 139: 2-3). 

Peter W. Marty

So let’s suppose real anger with God starts to bubble up inside your otherwise pleasant self. You wake up one morning full of rage. You are rip-snorting mad. The first word out of your mouth is “why?” It doesn’t feel anything like a prayer, though it’s certainly honest enough to qualify. So you say more: “Why, O Lord, am I suffering like this? Surely you have other options available to me. If not, what good are you?”

It’s that last bit of reasoning that causes many people to conclude that anger must be sinful. They figure it has no place inside the life of a spiritually mature person. Anger may indeed assume sinful dimensions when it gets expressed destructively. But like dynamite, it doesn’t have to blow up dangerously in our faces, unless we handle it poorly. It can also be indispensable for certain demolition projects.

Our top demolition project may be the illusion that we cannot be honest with God. Where this reticence to be honest comes from, I do not know. But if my own dearest relationships lack adequate room for honesty, they’re rather short on substance. To be angry with God is to take God seriously. That’s why figures like Jeremiah and Job were able to “let God have it” over and over again. God was a serious, even if deeply frustrating, partner in their lives.

Jesus spent a lot of time getting angry. In Scripture he is compassionate, loving and profoundly good. But he minces no words when people refuse to love, or when they turn faith into a clever means for judging others. If you want an earful of denunciation, check out his rebukes in Matthew 23 sometime: “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites.” His anger doesn’t seem to quit. Wherever people flagrantly disregard what God cares about, and obsess instead over far less important matters, Jesus goes off. 

If, in his humanity, Jesus had room to get furious, there is no reason why outrage would be unavailable to us. I want to be angry, for example, when kids go to bed hungry. I want to feel outrage when Israel and Palestine keep undermining any chance for peace in that beautiful land, even as they talk of peace. It feels grossly negligent not to be irked when some Topeka, Kan., church members picket the funerals of military personnel and gays. But, in the same breath, I’m not sure that moral indignation is in order when the driver in front of me fails to use his turn signal. 

Perhaps life is a matter of figuring out what we are so passionate about that we cannot help but experience anger and joy. Such honest emotions are fundamental to the ways we relate to the Lord.

Even though anger has been on the list of seven deadly sins for centuries, probably for the bitterness it can evoke, there is no reason to equate sin with anger. “Be angry but do not sin,” says the apostle Paul. “Do not let the sun go down on your anger” (Ephesians 4:26). In other words, the right type of anger has a rightful place in our lives, so long as it does not fester.

When I get angry with God, as I do from time to time, I don’t want the festering variety. I’ve seen anger consume far too many people. So, upon my bed, I ponder the layers of my own relationship with God (Psalm 4:4). How amazing, I often conclude, that God would welcome all of me, including my less sweet parts. That God trusts me enough to receive even my outrage reminds me of what a valuable conversation partner I really have.


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