“I wish I could pray. But I’m so angry with God that he would probably strike me dead if I told him how I felt,” people often share with me while experiencing personal or family crisis.
As a recent graduate in pastoral theology, and a 15-year veteran of the Church’s tribunal ministry, I have encountered my fair share of people who feel angry with God.
Often their anger is rooted in past trauma. Some suffered horrible abuse as children, whereas others may have lost a close friend or loved one while the deceased was still in the prime years of life. Among friends with military or police background there is the experience of encountering dehumanizing acts while in the line of duty.
In certain situations one is angry with God because one’s cross seems overwhelming. Two common examples are the breakdown of one’s marriage, or a child suffering from a serious illness or potentially fatal medical condition.
“Don’t worry,” I try and reassure. “It’s okay to pray when you are angry with God. Far from striking you dead, he appreciates when we have the honesty to share our anger with him.”
Prayer is not magic. We cannot bind God with our prayers or force him to act in a certain way.
Rather, prayer is communication with God.
We pray because it is our way of conversing with our creator. Through prayer we double our blessings when we share with God our dreams and our joys, and we halve our sadness as we share with him our burdens and our sorrows. This includes the burden of anger.
An apt example of this lesson is seen in the Book of Job. An Old Testament prophet, Job was God’s faithful servant who the Lord greatly blessed with children and livestock—a sign of wealth among nomadic people in the Ancient Near East.
Because of this, Satan challenges God to take away Job’s children and wealth, reducing Job to utter poverty and destitution. Yet Job’s fidelity continues. He refuses to curse God.
Satan then approaches God again and says: “Skin for skin! All that a man has he will give for his life. But put forth thy hand now, and touch his bone and his flesh, and he will curse thee to thy face.” (Job 2:4-5) In other words, Satan points out, many who remain faithful to God during tough financial times will lose hope if their physical health declines.
To which the Lord tells Satan: “Behold, he is in your power; only spare his life.” (Job 2:6)
For the next several chapters, Job will be encouraged by his wife and friends to curse God for having abandoned him. Job refuses. In so doing, the Old Testament prophet continues the theme of his initial response to impoverishment: “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return; the Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.” (Job 1:21).
Yet Job eventually grows frustrated with God’s seeming abandonment. Although he continues to defend God’s righteousness and majesty, his prayers become more desperate. Finally, when at his most destitute, Job voices his anger to God as follows (Job 30:19-21):
God has cast me into the mire,
and I have become like dust and ashes.
I cry to thee and thou dost not answer me;
I stand, and thou dost not heed me.
Thou hast turned cruel to me;
with the might of thy hand thou dost persecute me.
Job even lists all the ways he could have sinned against God but chose to remain faithful. What most upsets the prophet is God’s apparent silence throughout this spiritual trial.
Job’s honest recognition of his anger is transformative. It opens a dialogue between the prophet and God. “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?” God replies (Job 38:2), helping Job put into context his personal suffering in light of God’s greatness. There is a reason that God allowed Job to suffer and it is not because either party was unfaithful to the other.
As the narrative continues, God reminds Job of his many blessings. God then challenges Job to trust in His goodness as well as His power to restore those who remain faithful to Him. God is silent no more. Job’s honest recognition of his anger toward God provoked a candid discussion between him and God that brought about Job’s greater understanding of God’s goodness.
God was not offended by Job’s anger. Far from striking Job dead or abandoning him to his own misery, God broke his silence toward Job. He answered His faithful servant, and subsequently restored him to wealth by doubling the prophet’s previous blessing. What God valued most in His faithful servant was Job’s honesty. Job communicated honestly his anger and frustration with God.
This is why I encourage everyone to pray when we are angry with God. God is not offended. What he desires most from us is honest communication.