But Can You Handle It?
In my sermon on September 30, I made brief comments on how anger with God doesn’t do you much good when you are going through hard times. This may have been the part of the series What Shall I Do When Life Gets Hard? that generated the most comments from people. And the most questions!
What I said resonated with people. Intuitively, it made sense, while at the same time it raised important questions. The theme deserves more explanation and reflection. I want the people I love to flourish. You are among the people I love. Flourishing is possible even when life gets hard, but anger can really work against flourishing.
So, here are additional thoughts that may help you know what you can do when you are angry with God about the hard things of life. Today is the longest of what I will share. For the next several days, my comments will be much shorter.
I’ve heard it said (and so have you) that when you are angry with God, let God know you are angry. Let your anger out against God. God is a big God. He can handle your anger. He is not caught off guard by your anger. Your anger is how you are actually feeling about God, so get it out. Be angry with God and let God know it.
There are a few things about this sentiment with which I agree, and several that concern me a great deal.
- I agree that God is a big God.
- I agree that God knows you are angry with him.
- I agree that God is not caught off guard with your anger against him.
- I agree that you want to be honest with God about your feelings of anger (or discouragement or disappointment or doubt and so on). Authenticity with God is always the best policy. I am not opposed to you telling God you are angry with him. I am concerned that you are angry with God. I am also concerned with how you interact (or don’t) with God when you are angry with him.
- And finally, I agree that God is able to handle your anger against him.
I’ll take a roundabout way to tell you what I am concerned about.
Let’s assume for a moment that you are angry with me. The main question is, why are you angry with me? Did I actually do something that is deserving of your anger against me or are you dealing with a misinterpretation of what I did? Is this a case of you thinking I did something when I didn’t?
Now, it is very possible that I, a frail, fragile, finite, fallen, foolish person actually did something wrong that hurt you. Notice all those words I just used to describe me. I am all those things. Not all the time, but some of the time. Therefore, I do not always do the good I should do. Sometimes I do the bad I don’t want to do. Sometimes you are affected by my lack of good and by my doing what is bad.
I’ll come back to me and you in a moment.
Can you apply any of those words (frail, fragile, finite, fallen, or foolish) to God? I can’t. And I don’t! Here are the words I apply to God: wise, majestic, good, holy, loving, merciful, kind, just, gracious, generous, forgiving, persevering, and that is just a start. These are the words Scripture uses to describe God. And God is always these things. God is not mean, vindictive, petty, cruel, spiteful, aloof, etc.
In other words, the descriptors that justify you being angry with God are not provided in the Bible, unless you want to be angry that God is loving and good and holy and beautiful! Let that sink in for a bit.
Back to me and you. While I am potentially frail, finite, foolish, and so on, I am not necessarily those things all the time. It is a real possibility that you have misinterpreted something I did and made wrong assumptions about what I did and why I did it. And then, with that misinterpretation, comes your anger. You are angry, but without valid reason. I’ve been angry at other people and my anger was not valid. I didn’t discover that until I was aware of my misinterpretation of what they did.
If you are angry with me, the only way we can resolve this is to have a thoughtful conversation, based upon mutual love, humility, trust, and respect, and therefore, able to explore what happened and your response to what happened. Perhaps you are right in your assessment, but perhaps not. We will probably not find out if you are in my face telling me how angry you are with me. That is not conducive to conversation.
Because we are all finite and foolish and fallen, we give ourselves the benefit of the doubt and tend not to give the other person the benefit of the doubt.
That is our typical starting point when we are angry with someone. I am right in my anger. You are wrong in what you did that aroused my anger. The other is presumed guilty and we are presumed justified in our interpretation and anger. By the way, the Bible has words for that: pride, arrogance, sin … you can probably think of a few others.
Here is one more by the way. If someone is angry with you, and giving themselves and not you the benefit of the doubt, what would you like from them? I am sure you would like some grace from them to have a level playing field to talk about the situation. You don’t want to be presumed guilty from the beginning.
Now, back to God on this. It is quite possible that you have misinterpreted reality, what God is doing about reality, and why God is doing what he is doing. How human! How very (sinfully) human to misinterpret God and to give ourselves the benefit of the doubt and not God.
Hint: When it comes to reality, always assume God understands it better than you do. Even when it comes to your reality, God understands it better than you do. On this, the Bible is consistently persistent. God is God. You are not God. God is a much better interpreter of what is happening, why it is happening, and what might come out of what is happening. If you can’t agree that God is a more reliable interpreter of what is happening than you, then there is no need for you to read any further.
If you do believe that God is God (Maker of Heaven and Earth, the Only Wise God, Infinite, Majestic, Awesome in Splendor and Glory) and you are not God, and therefore, none of those things, read on. You are moving into what the Bible describes as the fear of the Lord. The holy, healthy, awe and respect we are to have before God. And this posture of the heart is the beginning of wisdom. Especially wisdom about suffering.
If you are inclined to do some Bible reading and reflection, look over Romans 9-11. Here Paul tackles the thorny issue of God’s sovereignty over Israel. If you have even more time, read the Book of Job, which describes God’s sovereignty over Job and (in the end) Job’s deep trust of God’s goodness and power.
That’s my first concern. When we are told let your anger out against God, that is not such good advice. What you need to search out is whether your anger against God is justifiable. Your anger against the good, good Father, the Son who died on the cross for your sins and your redemption, and the indwelling Spirit – do they deserve that anger?
Can God handle your anger? Without a doubt!
Should God have to handle your anger? Without any doubt, NO!
And can you handle what your God-directed anger is doing to you? And with even less doubt, NO!
Tomorrow we’ll explore my second concern about your anger with God.