Can we get mad at God?
Of course, that is probably a good thing. I am as capable as the next person of praying for something that may cause more harm than good in the long run. We trust in God’s heavenly perspective that the way God does act on our prayers will be for the best.
What about the other times? What about the times when things happen that leave us mad at God—not a little bothered or upset—but burning with anger mad.
If the Bible is our guide in answering this question, then you will see that God can take the heat. You could turn to the Book of Job or elsewhere, but I think the Psalms are the best example of anger at God. Some of the words the psalmist uses are burning hot with anger.
Psalm 22 begins “My God, My God why have you forsaken me and are so far from my cry and from the words of my distress?” Psalm 88:15 cries out, “Lord, why have you rejected me? Why have you hidden your face from me?” Psalm 44 is a lengthy cry for help that accuses God of having fallen asleep in a time of need. In Psalm 39, the Psalmist has had enough of God’s attention and says, “Turn your face from me, that I may be glad again, before I go my way and am no more.”
The Psalms are bold in the way they speak about God and to God. In fact, the most common type of Psalm is the lament Psalm. The lament Psalms are usually vague about the circumstances that have led to the distress, but they are vividly clear about how it feels.
The Psalmist writes in 6:6, “I grow weary because of my groaning; every night I drench my bed and flood my couch with tears.” Psalm 129:3 proclaims, “The plowmen plowed upon my back and made their furrows long.” These metaphors are strong images of very real emotional pain and turmoil. I think finding these expressions in scripture frees us up to get in touch with our anger, hurt, and disappointments. The Bible is a very realistic book and in the real world people suffer and feel abandoned by God. Scripture gives voice to these feelings.
Like Job, the lament Psalms rail against God refusing any false hopes or too pat answers. The Psalms take trust in God to a deeper level in which even our anger and disappointments with God are not out of bounds. It would seem that ancient Israel had a broader range of emotions in prayer than one finds today. The loud groan and the angry cry found their places alongside praise in the Psalms.
What is even more interesting is that Psalms were collected for public worship, not simply private devotions. The Temple in Jerusalem once rang out with people singing these Psalms in worship. In the process, they must have taken hold of a different understanding of how their times of personal prayer might sound.
The most important thing to me about the laments is that they are not simply cries of anger about a situation or cries of anger at God. The lament Psalms are also cries to God. No matter how hot the anger burns, the Psalmist stays in contact with God. The typical movement in a lament Psalm is from the lament to praise. This happens in a single verse without any description of a change in circumstances. The lament Psalms switch from angry cry to confident praise without missing a beat.
In Psalm 6, the mood switches like this, “My eyes are wasted with grief and worn away because of all my enemies. Depart from me, all evildoers, for the Lord has heard the sound of my weeping. The Lord has heard my supplication; the Lord accepts my prayer.”
We get no report of an actual change in circumstances. This too is realistic. We turn to God in prayer and trust that God will take care of things, but there may be no immediate change or no change at all. The lament Psalms cause for rejoicing seems to be that the Psalmist has finally summoned up the courage to take all this anger and resentment about God to God. Having laid all the anger at God’s feet and not been struck by lightning, the Psalmist is now ready to praise God in advance believing that God will act for the best.
The lament Psalms teach that God can deal with your anger better than your silence. When you are angry with God, don’t be afraid to say so. If you are at a loss for words, try strolling through the Psalms as you will find plenty of anger directed at God within these ancient hymns. Tell God exactly how you feel. Don’t hold back. It may not provide an instant miracle of praise, but you will reopen up the channel of communication with God through prayer, which is what the lament Psalms accomplish best.
This is my religion column for today's issue of the Tribune & Georgian.
Labels: religion column