A few years ago, I was on a flight from LA to my home in Florida. I was still in my suit and had, for the first time ever, requested a window seat. I’m not a man whose stature affords him any measure of comfort in such a seat, but today I needed to be as isolated as possible, with my nose pressed against the window, so that my fellow passengers wouldn’t see me crying.
I had just attended the funeral of Danielle. She was 4. She had honey-colored ringlets of hair, a substantial collection of tutus, and was everything her parents could have wanted. One morning, Danny got sick. By the afternoon, she was dead. We were told it was some massive and unavoidable internal infection and that “it just happens sometimes.” That, of course, was not a good reason.
In the air, I watched the patchwork of middle America slowly drift by. Then, something shifted in me. I stopped crying, sat back in my seat, and with an ice-cold anger muttered, “I’m freaking done with you.” I was talking to God.
For one year I didn’t pray, lash out or so much as whisper in God’s direction. I was angry, and I was handling that anger in the worst possible way.
Admitting the Anger
Have you ever been angry with God?
It’s OK to admit. We all have those moments. Some are as pronounced as my aforementioned melodrama, but some (if not most) are more subtle. Have you ever been frustrated with God over your interminable singleness? Have you ever wished desperately that a relationship would be reconciled, angrily saying to God, “Can’t you just fix this?!” Have you ever wondered if God would give you any clarity on your vocational future? The list goes on.
Thankfully, God gets anger. In fact, there are several biblical examples of people being angry with God.
Jonah, for example—“But to Jonah this seemed very wrong, and he became angry” (Jonah 4:1). And Job—“As surely as God lives, who has denied me justice, the Almighty, who has made my life bitter” (Job 27:2).
God has dealt with the anger of His children before. He certainly knows that in the creation of a species with finite understanding, there will be problems in grasping infinite wisdom.
So, does knowing that God understands our anger allow us to give full vent to that anger? Or should we bottle up that emotion, in fear of God’s retribution? No and no, because to do either of these things both undervalues God’s character and cheapens our own feelings.
I suggest we take a different approach to reconciling anger toward God:
Understanding the Character of God
Of course, God is perfect, without fault. He never makes mistakes. But we’re wrong to assume that just because He know’s He’s right, He won’t listen to our meager shouts of frustration. This just isn’t the case.
God loves you. And when you’re hurting, He’s displaying empathy and hurting for His child. We may be unjustly blaming God for the realities of a broken and fallen world, but God can handle that. His love, compassion, empathy and grace is there for the taking, if we choose to be receptive.
God desires a three-dimensional, honest relationship. And like any relationship, there will be peaks and valleys. But it’s in those valleys that God’s provision is often most evident (see Job and Jonah).
When you find yourself angry at God, do all you can to reject the instinct to distance yourself from Him. Rather, use that opportunity to better understand the overwhelming love of a gracious Father by engaging in the fight.
Understand Our Own Character
We are less complex than God, certainly. But when we get angry, we are masters at dancing in a crazy waltz of emotions that change every moment with very little warning. Think of the last time you got angry. Didn’t you find yourself, in one second, sorrowful and in deep mourning, and in the next, resolute that this would never happen again?
Anger is like a spacecraft returning to earth. It’s tumultuous, scary and constantly on the verge of total destruction. Yet the hope is that even in the midst of that turmoil, the ship is always moving home.
The mistake we make when we’re angry is that in the initial, tumultuous time, we run from God instead of realizing that it is in that moment that we need Him most.
God can handle it when we lash out at Him. But the reconciliation of anger isn’t just on God’s shoulders to wait out and hope you come back to earth. We have a part to play in this relationship, and that part is honesty.
Often when we’re angry, we either ignore God because we think we’re not allowed to talk to God that way, or we reject God because we think He’s not allowed to act that way. Either way, we must discipline ourselves to cry out to God from exactly the place where we find ourselves, or we might as well not cry out at all.
That’s it. We don’t need to figure out how we’re “supposed” to feel, we just need to do all we can to say, even through the gritting of teeth: “Here I am. Here’s why I hurt. Help.” Then you walk together, in a relationship, navigating the long ride home.
What I declared on that airplane wasn’t an empty expression. For a year, I didn’t talk to God. And instead of engaging in a relationship and just letting my Father be my Father, I ran away, unwilling to be honest about the depth of my pain and disappointment.
Then one day, at a very ordinary and unremarkable church service, I ended the standoff. Like the prodigal son before me, I was expecting God’s anger for my disobedience and wandering. Instead, I felt sympathy for a child who had been lost and a man who had been hurting for a very long time. I cried again.
My mistake in reconciling my anger was waiting far too long. Had I been more honest with God in the beginning, that reconciliation would have come much more quickly.
God loves us, feels our sorrows and desperately wants to be in right relationship with us. You and I will both get angry at God again. But my challenge for us is to ignore our instinct to run, and trust God enough to stay.
Eddie Kaufholz is a writer, speaker and podcaster and serves as a director of church mobilization for International Justice Mission. He also hosts and produces "The New Activist" podcast. You can find on Twitter @EdwardorEddie.