I searched my sermon playlist for a message to listen to during a Saturday morning walk. I selected a teaching from Elisabeth Elliot, a Christian missionary, author, and speaker, expecting to hear words of encouragement to compliment the beautiful and sunny day. Then, I heard the sentence along the lines of: "I have never been angry at God." I stopped in my tracks. The noise around me silenced. "Huh?" I thought. I selected the time bar to replay the statement. I heard her sentiment again and was surprised.
Elisabeth Elliot encountered great suffering in her life, as she had tragically lost two husbands. I was surprised to hear that even through such trials, she never felt any anger toward the Lord. Though, she admitted she struggled with other unwarranted feelings. As I continued my walk, I began to wonder why I was bewildered. I realized that our current culture tends to embrace all emotions, no matter how ugly they may be. Elisabeth Elliot's message convicted me. I began to recall times when I may have felt justified in my anger toward God, and I repented of them.
Anger is the feeling of being upset, displeased, or annoyed. Anger has a broad range in intensity, from slight irritation to hostility and rage. Most times, we encounter anger when we feel like someone has wronged us or when something bad happens. Unfortunately, life presents many circumstances that make us angry. For example, your best friend lied to you and has fractured your relationship. You are having trouble dating and get frustrated when you see proposal after proposal among your friends. Or, one of your beloved family members passes away suddenly, and you are troubled over the loss.
When tragedy strikes, we experience anger because we have identified an injustice. We become angry at God when we feel like He has acted unfairly. We confront His sovereignty, which is His control over everything that happens. We know that He allowed the heart attack, the sexual assault, and the failed marriage. Our fists tighten, and jaws clench as we recall such hardships. "Why in the world did He let that happen?" We think. We cannot fathom a reason why, but we assume we did not deserve it.
When we face off against the Lord in our anger, we accuse our just God of injustice. We bring Him to the court over which He is the Judge. We attribute to Him a crime that does not belong to His perfect name. Proverbs 14:29 states, "A patient person shows great understanding, but a quick-tempered one promotes foolishness." Anger can make us shortsighted. It can make us forget God's character. Scripture tells us that the Lord is good, faithful, gracious, and merciful (Psalm 86:15). God is our Father who loves us and never leaves us alone. God comforts us in hardship and expresses sorrow over brokenness with us. Through the Holy Spirit, God points us to the truth of His Word and the power of the gospel. He helps us stand on the saving work of Jesus Christ, our steady Rock through the storm. God is not the author of evil. Unfair and tragic circumstances occur because of sin and spiritual wickedness in our fallen world. But, God's sovereignty means that He is supreme over sin and evil. He is in control over it all, and He will redeem it all for His honor and the well-being of His children. The truth of God's sovereignty should ease our anger not alarm it.
On this side of life, we may never receive a satisfying answer for why God allowed suffering. Nevertheless, we cannot hold onto anger. James 1:19-20 says, "My dear brothers and sisters, understand this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to anger, for human anger does not accomplish God's righteousness." Scripture claims that such contempt will not help us grow in spiritual maturity.
Harboring anger toward God prevents us from becoming whole in Christ. Instead, it continues to bind us in sin. But Jesus Christ suffered and died for our sin, satisfying God's holy wrath that we deserved. We are no longer rebels in opposition to God. He has forgiven our injustice and crimes against His law. Now, we can engage with anger in the way the Lord wills. We can suffer in the likeness of Christ, who faced the weight of a fallen world with hope in God's restoration. God does want us emotionally healthy. In Christ, our anger will be redirected to repentance, to recall God's character, and to intercede for the state of the world.
If you are like me, you may have a difficult time processing your emotions and identifying when you are wrestling with anger. But, there are possible indicators to address. We can see if we are drifting from our Bible study time. Locate any tension in our bodies when we listen to worship music or hear the Word. We can assess our moods during times we should feel joy but do not. Then, with fists still clenched and jaws still tight, we can come before the Great God with our anger. Sometimes our anger can be a natural response to pain, and some may have anger toward God as part of their grieving process. Even then, we should be honest about our anger (2 Samuel 6:8, Job 3), and confess our feelings to God, remembering that He cares for us, He cares about our feelings, and can handle our honesty. Here, we can also ask God to free us from a bitter heart and help us remember the sweetness of Christ's salvation.
Emotions and the Heart Study
Faith Questions: Suffering Booklet
Between Grief and Glory Lamentations Study