Monday, July 04, 2011

Angry at God

I grew up in an angry household. My dad's family had a lot of tough things happen to them over past generations and Dad carried the anger of his own father inside of him. When my brothers and I were young, he would do plenty of shouting if he was unhappy with our behavior. Now I carry his anger around inside of me. It's like a flame that catches from one person to the next.

Anger is the easiest emotion for me to conjure up, more than sadness or fear or joy. It's also the easiest emotion for me to understand in other people and in God. But unlike God's holy wrath, human anger is often a distrustful mix of wounded pride and uncontrolled passion. I try to freeze my own anger down with cold hard reason, or channel its energy into doing good for others. Sometimes I have to accept that my anger is simply there, telling me that I'm not at peace with myself or with another person. It's presence is like a warning light indicating that there's something I need to confess or give up, or someone I need to confront or forgive. A lot of times there isn't much I can do but wait it out, just let the fire die out into a heap of embers.

Most people I know are afraid of anger, and they are also afraid of God, which is why you rarely hear anyone confess to being angry at God. If it does come up, people quickly backpedal. "No, I'm not angry with God. I wouldn't say that." But anger is a deep and complex emotion. You can be angry at someone and not want to be angry at them at the same time. You can be angry at someone you love and even feel both anger and love simultaneously. And just as we tend to hide from God, we hide from our own feelings about him too. Of all the relationships we have or will have in our lifetime, our relationship with God is by far the most dysfunctional.

The thing is, even if you don't want to admit being angry with God, you'd have to admit that in a lot of cases being angry with God makes more sense than being angry with people. Here's what I mean. If your family rejects you for being gay, for instance, you might be angry at them for awhile. Or you might turn your anger toward the church for teaching people to have negative attitudes against homosexuality. But then as the years pass by, and maybe you've gotten involved in activism or in trying to change people's minds, you start to see how people are already too weak-minded and ignorant and prejudiced to resist the simplistic things they are told. You start to realize that you yourself often fall prey to prejudice and the temptation to demonize others, and you wonder if it's just inevitable that gay and lesbian people would be misunderstood by a largely straight society. Then the Bible comes along and seems to reinforce these attitudes and misunderstandings in people. So if there's anyone it "makes sense" to be angry at, it's God. Isn't he the one who set up this whole impossible situation in the first place? Why did God allow you to be gay knowing it was going to be like this?

I wish I could say that I have the answers to those questions, but I don't. I only mention all this stuff because it's what I hear people saying. I've read a lot of emails and talked to a lot of gay Christians, and I hear people hinting at their anger toward God all the time. Of course it's easy to deny you're angry with God just because you don't feel a red hot rage, but anger can also take the form of cold resentment, the kind that avoids or gives the silent treatment, where you talk to God only when you have to, and even then you just mention the safe stuff that you think he wants to hear, hoping to mollify him and send him on his way.

The missionary Jim Elliot once wrote in his journal about growing in enough confidence to be able to laugh in the presence of God. I used to marvel at that. Laugh? Who would dare? Who feels such freedom? But for me it's always been about anger. Do I have the confidence to express my anger before him? At him? Being honest instead of feeding him lines like, "No, it's not you I'm angry at, it's the situation. And I'm not really angry, just hurt and disappointed." Coming clean seems too frightening. Am I really going to risk affronting the God who holds my life in his hands?

But somewhere along the way I crossed a forbidden threshold and found the freedom and confidence to express my anger at God, not for the purpose of telling him off but to lay it before him. It has helped to think of it this way: God already knows everything. He knows more about you than you know about yourself. He even knows what you're going to say before you say it, and what you're going to feel before you feel it. So if it happens that somewhere inside you are harboring a deep resentment against him, he already knows it and has already taken care of the sinful aspects of your anger in the death of his Son. So he's good.

The problem is entirely on your side when you do not own up to this anger. Your heavenly Father sees you coming before him day after day pretending that the anger doesn't exist when he knows very well that it does, because he sees your heart as plain as day. He knows that the reason you won't admit to being angry is that you're afraid of his rejection, and yet here he is loving and accepting you in Christ every day, patiently putting up with your resentment against him, which you deny that you have, and waiting for you to come around to the truth so that you can finally unload that awful burden off yourself. So given that this is the situation, which is the better course to take? To admit your anger before him, or not to?