I learned recently that when a person uses the words, “Is it right to be angry at God?” he may be asking a very different question. He may be asking, “Is it right to express anger at God?” These are not the same question, and the answer is not always the same.
The question usually arises in times of great suffering and loss. Disease threatens to undo all your dreams. Death takes a precious child from your family. Utterly unexpected desertion and divorce shake the foundations of your world. At these times people can become very angry, even at God.
Is this right? To answer this question we might, perhaps, ask the angry person, Is it always right to get angry at God? In other words, can a person get angry at God for every reason, and still be right? Was it right, for example, for Jonah to be angry at God’s mercy on Nineveh? “God relented of the disaster that he had said he would do to them, and he did not do it. But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was angry” (Jonah 3:10-4:1). I assume the answer would be, No. We should not get angry at God for just any reason.
But then we would ask: Which deeds of God is it right to get angry with, and which is it not? Now this is harder to answer. The truth begins to close in on the angry heart.
What about the things that displease us? Are these the acts of God that are good to be angry at? Is it the acts of God that hurt us? “I kill and I make alive; I wound and I heal; and there is none that can deliver out of my hand” (Deuteronomy 32:39). Are these the acts that justify us in directing our anger at God? Or is it his choice to permit the devil to harass and torture us? “The LORD said to Satan, ‘Behold, [Job] is in your hand; only spare his life.’ So Satan went out from the presence of the LORD and struck Job with loathsome sores from the sole of his foot to the crown of his head” (Job 2:6-7). Does the decision of God to permit Satan to hurt us and our children justify our anger at him?
Or come at it from the other side. What is anger? The common definition is: “An intense emotional state induced by displeasure” (Merriam-Webster). But there is an ambiguity in this definition. You can be “displeased” by a thing or by a person. Anger at a thing does not contain indignation at a choice or an act. We simply don’t like the effect of the thing: the broken clutch, or the grain of sand that just blew in our eye, or rain on our picnic. But when we get angry at a person, we are displeased with a choice they made and an act they performed. Anger at a person always implies strong disapproval. If you are angry at me, you think I have done something I should not have done.
This is why being angry at God is never right. It is wrong – always wrong – to disapprove of God for what he does and permits. “Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?” (Genesis 18:25). It is arrogant for finite, sinful creatures to disapprove of God for what he does and permits. We may weep over the pain. We may be angry at sin and Satan. But God does only what is right. “Yes, O Lord God, the Almighty, true and righteous are Your judgments” (Revelation 16:7).
But many who say it is right to be angry with God really mean it is right to express anger at God. When they hear me say it is wrong to be angry with God, they think I mean “stuff your feelings and be a hypocrite.” That’s not what I mean. I mean it is always wrong to disapprove of God in any of his judgments.
But if we do experience the sinful emotion of anger at God, what then? Shall we add the sin of hypocrisy to the sin of anger? No. If we feel it, we should confess it to God. He knows it anyway. He sees our hearts. If anger at God is in our heart, we may as well tell him so, and then tell him we are sorry, and ask him to help us put it away by faith in his goodness and wisdom.
When Jesus died on the cross for our sins, he removed forever the wrath of God from our lives. God’s disposition to us now is entirely mercy, even when severe and disciplinary (Romans 8:1). Therefore, doubly shall those in Christ turn away from the terrible specter of anger at God. We may cry, in agony, “My God, My God, where are you?” But we will follow soon with, “Into your hands I commit my spirit.”
Humbled under the mighty and merciful Hand,
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