Many people get angry at God when things go wrong in their lives. “God, how could you let this happen? I thought you were supposed to be so good!” Does God let bad things happen in our lives? Yes, in a sense, he does. It’s what we might call his permissive, or reluctant, will. He does not want terrible things to happen to us, but his agenda is not of this world. Everything that he permits to happen is for some greater good, some eternal good. If the only thing that mattered was for things to turn out well in this life, we might have a case against God when tragedies occur. But, it is the eternal good that matters, and that’s virtually impossible for us to figure out.
A perfect example of that is the suffering and death of Jesus. It was a tragedy in terms of this world for Jesus, the only son of Mary and the teacher and leader of eleven good men and the Church that followed, to die on a cross.
Yet the eternal good from that event was beyond every conceivable worldly good.
Suffering is always related to some sin in the world. My suffering is not necessarily the result of my sin, but of some sin, as Pope St. John Paul II taught: “At the basis of human suffering, there is a complex involvement with sin.” Jesus’ suffering was redemptive. Ours can be as well if we embrace it as the cross Christ promised his followers.
Jesus himself expressed frustration during his Crucifixion. He cried out the words that begin Psalm 22, thereby taking upon himself every frustration of life ever endured by us on earth:
My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? Why art thou so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning?
O my God, I cry by day, but thou dost not answer; and by night, but find no rest.
Yet thou art holy,
enthroned on the praises of Israel.
In thee our fathers trusted;
they trusted, and thou didst deliver them.
To thee they cried, and were saved;
in thee they trusted, and were not disappointed.
But I am a worm, and no man;
scorned by men, and despised by the people. (1–6)
But, that psalm ends with a note of hope:
I will tell of thy name to my brethren;
in the midst of the congregation I will praise thee:
You who fear the Lord, praise him!
all you sons of Jacob, glorify him,
and stand in awe of him, all you sons of Israel!
For he has not despised or abhorred
the affliction of the afflicted;
and he has not hid his face from him,
but has heard, when he cried to him. (22–24)
There is a similar dynamic in Psalm 13:
How long, O Lord? Wilt thou forget me for ever?
How long wilt thou hide thy face from me? How long must I bear pain in my soul,
and have sorrow in my heart all the day? How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?
Consider and answer me, O Lord my God;
lighten my eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death;
lest my enemy say, “I have prevailed over him”; lest my foes rejoice because I am shaken.
But I have trusted in thy steadfast love;
my heart shall rejoice in thy salvation.
I will sing to the LORD,
because he has dealt bountifully with me. (1–6)
In fact, each time the psalmist complains to God, he ends by praising him (see also Ps. 35:17–18 and 42:9–11). That is a good thing to do!
So, although there is some biblical evidence that it is permissible to be frustrated with God, if not angry, the bottom line is the only reasonable conclusion: God is not to blame! God is good and worthy of our praise. How ungrateful we are to have so many gifts in life (count them sometime!) and, when we lose one gift, to get angry at God.
If we spent time each day thanking God, we would hardly be able to get angry at him. Instead we tend to take for granted the gifts we have. For these, we should thank God unceasingly. I composed the following prayer to remind myself and others of the many gifts we have received from God:
Prayer of Thanks
Heavenly Father, I thank you for my very existence, which you gave me out of the abundance of your love and which you sustain at every moment. I thank you for my health, which I so often take for granted, for my parents and family, which I also take for granted. I thank you for my intellect, by which you gave me the power to think, and for my will, by which you gave me the power to love. Thank you for my body, and the food and drink by which you sustain it, and the shelter by which you protect it. Thank you for my soul and for your word and sacraments, by which you nourish it.
My every talent comes from you, my every possession, my every moment of time, for which I will be eternally grateful. Thank you for Blessed Mary, who intercedes for me always. And thank you most of all for Jesus, who has given us new life, new hope, new love by his death and Resurrection, and for the Church, which brings him to me each day.
What an awesome, generous, loving God you are!
You ask me to honor and worship you at least weekly and to pray to you without ceasing. It is my joy to do so in thanksgiving for all you have given me. Amen.
If our youth would say that prayer daily, they might never ask the question, “Why do I have to go to Mass every Sunday?” or “Why should I pray?” If we would pray that prayer daily, we might never become angry at God.
Also, when people pray hard for something and don’t get it, they sometimes get angry at God. It seems we think we can manipulate God with our prayers, and if we pray hard, we think he must provide whatever we ask for. God answers every prayer, but sometimes the answer is no. And, if it is no, we’re better off — if we love God. That’s why Jesus wants us to say, “Thy will be done” in the Our Father. That is the sure way to happiness — the will of God. This belief is an essential part of our Christian faith.
Some go through a short-lived frustration with God. The Scriptures seem to allow for that. But the person who stays angry at God betrays a lack of knowledge of God. If we have an intimate relationship with him, there is no way we can become angry at him, because we have a deeply intuitive knowledge of his goodness and his personal concern for our happiness.
An excellent way to avoid getting angry at God is to praise him for everything. Methodist minister Merlin Carothers happened upon this way to deal with irritating events in his life. He began to praise God for all that happened to him, good or bad. This was based on Romans 8:28: “We know that in everything God works for good with those who love him, who are called according to his purpose.” So, he reasoned, if we love God, no matter what happens, good will come of it.
He praised God when he had a car problem and was sent to a repair shop known for overcharging people. He went there and had to make an appointment to come the next day for his car to be looked at. He kept praising God through it all. As he started his car and began to leave, the mechanic told him to shut it off so he could try something under the hood. After he had fiddled with it for a few minutes, he told Carothers to try starting it again. The problem was fixed. He asked the mechanic how much he owed him, and the mechanic replied, “Not a thing, sir.”
He got a soldier and his wife (Carothers was a military chaplain) to praise God even though the wife was suicidal over her husband’s being sent to Vietnam. She had been adopted and was estranged from her family. She couldn’t bear the idea of being alone, without her husband. Within a few days after they (reluctantly) praised God for their situation, the wife met a soldier out of the blue whose mother turned out to be her own mother. All of a sudden she had a mother and a brother. Meanwhile, her husband was able to have his orders changed, and stay in the United States. She now had a family and a husband at home. Praise God!
To praise God for even the apparently bad things that happen is to trust him, and God loves trust. He told St. Maria Faustina (the Divine Mercy saint), “The graces of my mercy are drawn by means of one vessel only, and that is trust. The more a soul trusts, the more it will receive. Souls that trust boundlessly are a great comfort to me, because I pour all the treasures of my grace into them.” He also told her, “Sins of distrust wound me most painfully.”
There’s more to praising God for trials experienced. It’s found in Colossians: “Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church” (1:24). In a sense, of course, there is nothing lacking in Christ’s sufferings for the Church. For the infinite dimension of sin, the offense against God, Christ had to pay the whole debt, since we could never make a dent in that. But for the finite dimension, the harm done to ourselves and the world, we are to make up for at least part of it ourselves. That is what St. Paul was speaking of.
And that is what St. John of the Cross was saying when he asked God to allow him to suffer something each day for Him. It is what Teresa of Ávila had in mind when she wrote, “Let me suffer or let me die.” It is what St. Thérèse was thinking of when she suffered her final illness and said, “I would not want to suffer less,” because it was her “desire to save souls.” And it is part of the message of Mary to the children of Fátima when she asked, “Do you want to offer yourselves to God, to endure all the suffering he may send you, as an act of reparation for the sins by which He is offended, and to ask for the conversion of sinners?” (They said yes, by the way.)
What is the message of saints such as Padre Pio who have the stigmata, the wounds of Christ in their hands and feet? Is that a privilege? Of course it is! So the message is that sharing in the redemptive suffering of Christ is an honor. If we embrace our crosses rather than cursing them, we do share in Christ’s work of redemption.
It is difficult to lose your temper when you are praising God for the good that will come of whatever tragedy you are faced with and for the chance to share in the redemptive mission of Christ. St. James wrote, “Count it all joy, my brethren, when you meet various trials, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness” (James 1:2–3).
Editor’s note: This article is adapted from a chapter in Fr. Morrow’s Overcoming Sinful Anger, which is available from Sophia Institute Press.