Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Anger at God is Never Right

The following advice comes from an article entitled Go Ahead, Be Angry at God! by a liberal writer named R. Adam DeBaugh:
Too often I hear people talk guiltily about feeling anger toward God. More often than not, we get angry at God over things over which we have no control. If we don't control it, God must - someone has to be in control! It may be a failed relationship. Or the death of a loved one. Or our cumulative grief over the on-going HIV/AIDS crisis. Or financial worries. Or any number of things about which we feel we have no control. So we are angry. And since no one else seems to be available to be angry at, we get angry at God. And we feel guilty. We feel we shouldn't get angry at God! We worry that God's feelings will be hurt. Or worse yet, God will return our anger - and we all know how much better at being angry God could be! Nonsense. I say, Go ahead, be angry at God!
Later in the same article DeBaugh goes on to assert again, “So go ahead, be angry at God. God can take it. There won't be any retribution from God. And you might be able to do some clear and constructive thinking about what made you angry after venting your emotions.”

I couldn't disagree more with this writer! First, I strongly question whether simply venting our anger is ever really helpful. The words of the Apostle James quickly come to mind here:
NKJ James 1:19-20 “So then, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath; 20 for the wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God.”
Second, I disagree with DeBaugh that it is alright to be angry at God because anger toward a person typically assumes that the person has wronged you in some way. Consider, for example, these basic definitions of anger:
“belligerence aroused by a real or supposed wrong” (WordWeb)

“a strong feeling of displeasure and belligerence aroused by a wrong; wrath; ire” (Dictionary)

“a strong feeling of displeasure and usually of antagonism” (Merriam-Webster)
Now, even supposing the softer definition given by Merriam-Webster, which describes anger as a “strong feeling of displeasure,” one must wonder how a person could ever justly feel such displeasure against God unless he assumes that God has done something worthy of such displeasure and thus something that we would call wrong.

John Piper hits the nail on the head when he writes:
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). (Is it Ever Right to Be Angry at God?)
I agree with John's reasoning and have often offered essentially the same response myself. God cannot sin. He can do no wrong. To the Scriptures cited by John to this effect we could add many others. For example:
NKJ Isaiah 6:1-5 “In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lifted up, and the train of His robe filled the temple. 2 Above it stood seraphim; each one had six wings: with two he covered his face, with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. 3 And one cried to another and said: 'Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of His glory!' 4 And the posts of the door were shaken by the voice of him who cried out, and the house was filled with smoke. 5 So I said: 'Woe is me, for I am undone! Because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts.'”
The holiness of God always exposes our sin, just as it did the sin of Isaiah. In fact, that God is holy means that he does not sin and is separated from sin.

Wayne Grudem has offered a good definition of the holiness of God in his Systematic Theology, where he writes:
God's holiness means that he is separated from sin and devoted to seeking his own honor. This definition contains both a relational quality (separation from) and a moral quality (the separation is from sin or evil, and the devotion is to the good of God’s own honor or glory). (p. 201)
The holiness of God also provides the basis for His commands for us to be Holy. For example:
NKJ 1 Peter 1:13-16 “Therefore gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and rest your hope fully upon the grace that is to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ; 14 as obedient children, not conforming yourselves to the former lusts, as in your ignorance; 15 but as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, 16 because it is written, 'Be holy, for I am holy.'”
It is because God is holy – and thus desires that we be holy – that He disciplines us as His children:
NKJ Hebrews 12:10-14 “For they indeed for a few days chastened us as seemed best to them, but He for our profit, that we may be partakers of His holiness. 11 Now no chastening seems to be joyful for the present, but painful; nevertheless, afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. 12 Therefore strengthen the hands which hang down, and the feeble knees, 13 and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be dislocated, but rather be healed. 14 Pursue peace with all people, and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord ….”
In fact, God is so holy that he cannot even be tempted to sin:
NKJ James 1:13 “Let no one say when he is tempted, 'I am tempted by God'; for God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He Himself tempt anyone.”
Again, it is clear from Scripture that God can do no wrong and that He is the very standard of righteousness for us. It is also clear, therefore, that any response to His decisions or actions that assumes that He has done wrong is itself wrong! Indeed, given such evidence from Scripture that God can do no wrong, the thought that a person could ever justly be angry at Him immediately appears ridiculous, doesn't it?

But what about the clear examples in Scripture of believers who were angry at God? Let's examine two such instances and see what we can discover.

Example #1: Job
NKJ Job 19:6-7 “Know then that God has wronged me, and has surrounded me with His net. 7 If I cry out concerning wrong, I am not heard. If I cry aloud, there is no justice.”
After initially refusing either to curse God or to accuse Him of any wrong (1:20; 2:10), Job eventually succumbed to the pressure of his circumstances and the resulting despair, and he accused God of wrong. His anger toward God is easy to detect in his complaints, and the reason for his anger is clear enough as well: He believes God has wronged him by treating him unfairly.
Such anger at God has been the temptation of many a depressed and sorrowful soul. Thankfully, though, Job never did curse God and turn away from Him, no matter how bitter and angry he became. And later in the book we find that Job regretted having spoken such rash and angry words about God. For God Himself confronted Job for what he had said:
NKJ Job 40:1-5 “Moreover the LORD answered Job, and said: 2 'Shall the one who contends with the Almighty correct Him? He who rebukes God, let him answer it.' 3 Then Job answered the LORD and said: 4 'Behold, I am vile; what shall I answer You? I lay my hand over my mouth. 5 Once I have spoken, but I will not answer; yes, twice, but I will proceed no further.'”
NKJ  Job 42:1-6 “Then Job answered the LORD and said: 2 'I know that You can do everything, and that no purpose of Yours can be withheld from You. 3 You asked, “Who is this who hides counsel without knowledge?” Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know. 4 Listen, please, and let me speak; You said, “I will question you, and you shall answer Me.” 5 I have heard of You by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees You. 6 Therefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes.'”
It seems clear to me that Job recognized that he had been wrong about God and that he was wrong to say the things about God that he had said. He recognized that his attitude had been sinful and offered God his most sincere confession and repentance. I must say, then, that I continue to be dumbfounded at the way so many cite the case of Job as evidence that it is alright to be angry at God. I think Job himself – if he were here – would vehemently disagree. In fact, he might just get angry at the people who say such things!

Example #2: Jonah
NKJ Jonah 4:1-11 “But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he became angry. 2 So he prayed to the LORD, and said, 'Ah, LORD, was not this what I said when I was still in my country? Therefore I fled previously to Tarshish; for I know that You are a gracious and merciful God, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness, One who relents from doing harm. 3 Therefore now, O LORD, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live!' 4 Then the LORD said, 'Is it right for you to be angry?' 5 So Jonah went out of the city and sat on the east side of the city. There he made himself a shelter and sat under it in the shade, till he might see what would become of the city. 6 And the LORD God prepared a plant  and made it come up over Jonah, that it might be shade for his head to deliver him from his misery. So Jonah was very grateful for the plant. 7 But as morning dawned the next day God prepared a worm, and it so damaged the plant that it withered. 8 And it happened, when the sun arose, that God prepared a vehement east wind; and the sun beat on Jonah's head, so that he grew faint. Then he wished death for himself, and said, 'It is better for me to die than to live.' 9 Then God said to Jonah, 'Is it right for you to be angry about the plant?' And he said, 'It is right for me to be angry, even to death!' 10 But the LORD said, 'You have had pity on the plant for which you have not labored, nor made it grow, which came up in a night and perished in a night. 11 And should I not pity Nineveh, that great city, in which are more than one hundred and twenty thousand persons who cannot discern between their right hand and their left – and much livestock?'”
Yes, Jonah was angry at God. But he was also wrong to be angry at God! And God made this clear to him, didn't He?


So, in each of these two classic exampels of men who were angry at God, it is clear that they were wrong to be angry at Him. But what if we are angry at God – however wrong it may be – what should we do then? I think John Piper again offers good advice here:
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. (Is it Ever Right to Be Angry at God?)
Again, I have frequently offered essentially the same advice to struggling believers. It is never right to pretend with God. In fact, to pretend with Him assumes negative things about Him that are just as bad as assuming He can do wrong, for it assumes that God does not really know what we are thinking and cannot figure out why we are acting the way we are acting! The best thing to do, then, is to accept God for who He says He is and to be honest with Him. Admit your anger and repent as Job did, and be assured that He will forgive you.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for the reminder. Pertaining to Jonah, it is stunning in his anger that he justifies his indignation that God was "slow to anger". How backward we can be in our thinking.

    Thank you for the exhortation for us all have a heart to repent of indignant anger. We will be judged by a God who is very slow to anger in his pure anger.