Anger at God

Anger, when selfish, obstructs friendship. It places distance between friends and prevents friendship from growing. Jesus is aware of the destructive power of selfish anger. He thus instructs us to resolve our differences with others before we come to God bearing gifts:

Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift. (Matt. 5:23-24)

His message is: Don't pretend that things are all right between you and God if your human relationships are marked by selfish anger and strife. My heart is far from God's when I hold on to selfish anger. Offerings to God will not solve a heart problem marked by selfish anger. Jesus asks us to work out our differences among humans, and then come with our gifts for God.

Jesus warns us not to let selfish anger in our human relationships obstruct friendship with God. Jesus is not suggesting that God is grudging until we make amends with others; rather, he suggests that his Father rightly disapproves of our selfish anger. His Father is the God who in response to our rebellion against Him sent His beloved Son, Jesus, to repair the damage we had done to His friendship. He could hold a great deal against us, but He responds instead with perfect love and mercy. Our friendship with God is harmed when we have selfish anger toward others, because we then show a lack of trust in God. We fail to trust the God who aims to provide what we need regardless of how others treat us and regardless of our circumstances. Our selfish anger toward others rests on our anger toward God for not giving us the lives we want. When we are angry with God, we are telling Him that He should do things differently, as we prefer. At the heart of our anger toward God is our selfishness that blocks trust in the goodness and love of God.

Not all anger is selfish. Righteous anger is appropriate when an act of harm or injustice has been committed. Such anger does no harm, but rather draws attention to an offense in an effort to correct the offender for his or her own sake. Selfish anger, in contrast, is preoccupied with selfish interest. Often, it seeks to intimidate, to manipulate, or otherwise to control another person. At times selfish anger signals a desperate cry for help, as, for instance, in the case of an abused or neglected teenager who lashes out in self-destructive behavior as an expression of his or her need for help. This desperate form of selfish anger cries out, "Why aren't *you* doing something about this?" Such a cry can blame God or a parent or anyone, for that matter. It seeks to control, on its own terms. Even so, there is a difference between (a) your being angry because you are desperately trying, however badly, to get seriously needed help and (b) your being angry because you are trying to control someone else apart from your seeking to get needed help. Both (a) and (b) are selfish and betray a lack of trust of God, but the motives are different.

Anger toward God is always selfish. Anger against Him is never proper, because His actions toward us are always perfectly loving, just, and good. He always acts in our best interest. We can know that His perfect love and trustworthiness are genuine, because they are expressed and offered in the friendship of Jesus, who gave his life for us. Still, we sometimes find ourselves angry with God for our circumstances. When, in our anger, we accuse Him of wrongdoing, we have been given a wonderful opportunity to see the depths of our own selfishness. In no other relationship is it so easily seen that our anger is completely out of line. We can easily point to the flaws and mistakes of other people. We can easily identify real injustices we have suffered at the hands of others. It is too easy for us to assume that our perspective is correct and that someone else is to blame for our woes. The blame, however, cannot be passed on to God, as the book of Job testifies. God has no flaws, and makes no mistakes. God never wrongs us, nor does He ever fail to seek to bring beauty from ashes. Thus, if I find myself angry with God, I know, at least on reflection, that He isn't the problem. I am. I am not in the position to tell God that things should have been done differently. I am not in the position to presume that God cannot bring good out of whatever suffering I must bear. I am not in the position to tell God what He should do with the gift of life He has given me. Jesus showed us this in Gethsemane, with his characteristic prayer to his Father: Not what I will, but what You will.

It can be very difficult to trust God. We may hold deep grudges against Him for allowing the undesirable circumstances of our lives. We may not even be aware of being angry at God. The common atheist complaint that a loving God would not allow the suffering and evil of this world is really a masked expression of anger against God. We can always trust Him, but until we actually learn this lesson deeply through pains of living, we will have trouble trusting Him. This will be especially difficult if we have painfully learned how untrustworthy human beings can be. If, for instance, as children we learn that we cannot trust our parents to care for our needs, and our familiar environment grieves the Lord's Spirit, it is not surprising that we have difficulty trusting God. We then will lack experience of what it's like to trust God. We will then lack true comfort, peace, and safety. We will then be left only with an attempt to cope. When we grow up, the coping won't work as we wish. The Lord can then break through and teach us how to trust Him. We can go for broke with Him, because He is trustworthy. We don't have to be angry at Him. We don't have to be angry with others either. We can forgive them, just as He forgives us. Indeed, we must forgive, if we are to be drawn close to Him. In Him, our needs are met.

What a gift, then, can emerge from anger toward God! Such anger can be an opportunity to recognize and to confess my selfish willfulness. I can see the depths of my need to receive God's grace. I can ask for His grace and yield to its transforming power. Through all this, I can ask for help every step of the way. I will need help every step of the way, because destructive selfishness lurks around every corner of my life.

I won't be able to be reconciled to others if I have not received God's grace. In addition, I can't receive God's grace if I am angry with Him. Letting go of anger toward others must start with being reconciled to God by receiving His forgiveness and entering into His friendship. We must put first things first. We must put God first. In doing so, we find freedom from selfish anger and all else that destroys us. We find life abundant.

Love Gives

You say love gives.
But then You take
and You withhold
the things I want the most.

If You loved, so loved me so,
with all Your power
Why, if You so loved me so,
don't You
won't You
can't You
that this just is not love to me?!

If You loved me as You say,
You would give to me my way.
Life would not be near so hard
And I would be fully in charge.

You say love gives.
And all I have
is life
the way that I don't want.
Can You give me something else?