Anger Issues with God
by Misty Irons
A few years ago I cleared a hurdle in my spiritual life when I finally acknowledged that I have anger issues with God. My anger does not center on any dramatic event such as the loss of a job or a loved one. I have simply had lots of disappointments in my life: times when I felt I deserved better, times when things didn't turn out the way I wanted, times when I found myself isolated at exactly the moment I needed support. On the outside my life doesn't appear to be anything to complain about, but on the inside I'm prone to go through seasons of unhappiness, seasons when I feel angry with God.
As an elder's wife and leader of a women's Bible study at our church, I have tried to talk more openly about this with other Christians, and it's interesting to see how people react when I bring it up. Usually there is immediate discomfort and a knee-jerk denial. "Oh no, I'm not angry with God. Sure, I feel hurt sometimes. Sometimes I have questions about why God's doing this or that in my life. But anger? Not me."
I'm not talking about a feeling that is easy to identify or that hovers on the surface. This is something that we push deep down and usually aren't even conscious of. When we're feeling fine, we tell ourselves we don't harbor any negative feelings toward God. But I've noticed for myself that as soon as God takes something away from me that I really value, the anger surfaces almost immediately. Why is that? Where does it come from? It's as if it is lurking just beneath the superficial spiritual covering, and I don't even know it is there until the right situation chases it out.
I can think of a couple of reasons to explain why we may have trouble acknowledging our anger issues with God. The first is that it is rarely if ever expressed in liturgical language. I've never heard a sermon that directly addressed anger at God. At most a prayer of complaint might be read from the Psalms, but there is never an expression of anger. Maybe it's not appropriate to express that emotion during, say, a worship service, but if anger is never acknowledged among Christians at all, then it makes it hard to recognize that sometimes your heart does go there. Perhaps that's why most people I've talked to balk at the idea.
The second reason is that many people deem it theologically incorrect, even blasphemous. When I worshiped at my church last Sunday, we rejoiced together over the truth that God is good and right, full of mercy and compassion, his loving kindness better than life. And that's all true, of course. If any of those things don't seem true, the misunderstanding must be on our side. That's why feeling anger at God is a scary emotion. It's something you would experience only if you felt that God has wronged you, which theologically flies in the face of all those cherished truths about his love and goodness. It's like crossing a line. So you do your best to suppress, deny, or forget about it.
But there was once a righteous man named Job who suffered terribly, and when he was brought to his knees he poured out not only his complaint against God but also his anger.
For he crushes me with a tempest, and multiplies my wounds without cause; he will not let me get my breath, but fills me with bitterness. If it is a contest of strength, he is the strong one! If it is a matter of justice, who can summon him?
Does it seem good to you to oppress, to despise the work of your hands and favor the schemes of the wicked? Do you have eyes of flesh? Do you see as humans see?
We know the Scriptures teach us objective truths about who God is and how we ought to respond to him. But these passages in Job are recording another type of scriptural truth: the subjective truth of how the human heart experiences suffering. Because when you're confused and hurting, sometimes God can feel oppressive. God is holy, powerful, and in control. You are sinful, weak, and helpless. How can you raise a protest against him? How can you demand the answers from him that you crave?
Like Job, you see yourself as bullied and cornered and wronged by God, which makes you angry, which also makes you scared, because you wonder if you are teetering on the brink of sinful rebellion. And yet surely the Bible records these complaints of Job for this very reason: to assure us that other saints have gone before us expressing these same, seemingly forbidden emotions. Job, one of the most righteous men spoken of in Scripture, traveled those dark paths before us. In the end, his faith not only survived but was even strengthened and blessed.
Let's say you acknowledge you have anger issues with God. Now what? When it comes to human relationships, the biblical instruction is to confront a brother or sister to resolve your anger. "Do not let the sun go down on your anger," Paul says in Ephesians 4:26. This is because unresolved anger is a barrier that needs to be dealt with in order to be at peace with another human being.
You try to do something similar with God, but since you don't know how to resolve such hugely complex heart issues with him, you don't want to express them. How often do you express feelings of anger to any authority figure in your life? To your father? To your boss? If you're like me, you don't want to risk the blowback. If there are consequences to being honest with powerful authority figures, how much more with the Almighty?
But relating to God is different from relating to human beings. It took me a while to realize this, because hiding my negative emotions from people is a deeply instinctive reaction for me. But God is different, because whatever negative feelings you have toward him, God already knows how you feel. God also knew what set of circumstances would make you angry before they happened, and he may have even shielded you from something worse happening. In other words, God is so far ahead of the game that nothing you are feeling is a surprise to him.
So God already knows the ins and outs of your heart, and at some level you've known this to be true all along. The real challenge may be that you're the one who can't face your own anger. The distance you feel between yourself and God may be something of an illusion; the real distance is between yourself and your own heart. You have to find your way to the truth of your own feelings, confront them at the core, and then bring them before God. You need to tell him what he already knows, for your own benefit more than for his.
When your heart is hurting, you may not feel ready to peer inside and deal with all that is there. It is a journey, and journeys take time. But it may help to realize that unlike with human beings, you don't need to have all your feelings resolved with God in order to have a relationship with him. With human beings you have one emotional channel of connection with them, and if that one channel is blocked up with negative feelings, the whole relationship is blocked. That's why the passage in Ephesians 4:26 tells us not to let the sun go down on our anger when that anger is directed toward other people.
But God is a complex being capable of maintaining a complex relationship with you. God knows the end from the beginning and had all your days recorded in the book of life before you were even born, so God can handle the changing tides of your human emotions on a daily basis. You can have unresolved anger and still pray to him. You can know that God's everlasting arms are still beneath you even if you're confused about your feelings toward God. God isn't confused about how he feels about you. Your anger does not block him because all his channels of connection with you have been cleansed in the blood of Christ.
When you are ready to express your anger to God, quite often it begins with the word "why." The saints of old asked why. They did not shy away from confronting God with their hurts and disillusionment.
Why is light given to one in misery, and life to the bitter in soul?
—Job (Job 3:20)
O Lord, why have you mistreated this people? Why did you ever send me?
—Moses (Exod. 5:22)
Why, O Lord, do you stand far off? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?
—David (Psalm 10:1)
There is relief in bringing your honest feelings before God. In many ways it is an act of faith. You are setting aside any pretense of piety and being truthful. You are asking God to build a relationship with you that is authentic and personal. Abraham, Job, Moses, and David all spoke to God with emotional honesty, and all of them are commended in Scripture for walking closely with him. Abraham was "a friend of God" (James 2:23). Job was "blameless and upright" (Job 1:1; 2:3). David was "a man after God's own heart" (Acts 13:22). And God spoke to Moses "face to face, just as a man speaks to his friend" (Exod. 33:11).
Whenever a spiritual crisis pushes me to the point where I am angry with God, I tend to feel a sense of doom, as if I've come to the end of my rope and now there's no hope for me. The reality is that such moments have always been a turning point, like clearing a hurdle that was blocking me from moving ahead. I'd been afraid of my feelings and afraid that God would reject me because of them, but once I confront and deal with those fears I suddenly discern a flicker of hope. Maybe because I've stopped deciding ahead of time what God is and isn't willing to do for me or what behavior he is and isn't willing to tolerate in me. It's not that the problems or angry emotions evaporate overnight. Rather, I gain confidence that I can walk with God through whatever mess I'm in and discover the emotional freedom of being with a friend who knows me better than I know myself.
Misty Irons is a Bible study teacher, part-time editorial assistant, and homeschooler who blogs at MoreMusingsOn.blogspot.com. She lives in Northridge, Calif., with her husband and three children.