Over the weekend I posted a tweet that proved to be unexpectedly controversial. Well, unexpected to me anyway.
It is never right to be angry at God. Ever.
— Denny Burk (@DennyBurk) April 28, 2017
I had no idea it would be so provocative simply to say that it is never right to be angry at God. But provocative it was—more so than I ever anticipated. Some readers were downright angry about the tweet. Not all of them were like this, but there were more angry responses than I could count. The objections people raised fell into two broad groups. And I thought it might be worthwhile to offer some brief reflections in answer to both.
1. To those who thought I was saying we should stuff our feelings down and not be honest with God about our pain.
This is not what I said, and it is certainly not what I meant. In fact, I believe just the opposite. Just this last week, I taught on the lament Psalms in my hermeneutics courses. And what I said then is what I always say in my courses. These Psalms teach us to cry out to God with brutal honesty when life hurts us. They make sense of a world in which we suffer real evils and have real tears streaming down our faces. They deal with death, depression, and all the other evils that make us feel undone in this life.
These Psalms teach us how to hope in God in the midst of suffering. They reflect the reality of the human condition in a fallen world where oppression, violence, and death hound the people of God. They reflect the same world that you and I live in where children get cancer, fathers desert their families, and strong men rule and oppress as dictators. They portray the world as it is, not as it should be. They reflect the whole range of human experience and do so with unflinching honesty and hope.
On Wednesday and Thursday, we took a really close look at Psalm 13, in which David’s suffering makes him feel abandoned by God. There is anguish, pathos, and a sense of desperation in David’s cries. This Psalm and many others like it teach us to cry out to God when we feel desperate. They teach us to be honest about just how desperate we feel in those moments. They don’t teach us to stuff our feelings down. On the contrary, they teach us to lay all our cards on the table. They teach us to make our requests known to God so that the peace of God which transcends all understanding might guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus (Phil. 4:6-8).
There’s no stuffing down of feeling and emotion. There is authenticity, confession, and hope. And they are for us. They teach us how we should pray.
2. To those who believe that the Bible (especially the Psalms) teaches us that it is right to be angry with God sometimes.
There is not a single psalm that teaches us that it is right to be angry with God. You can look high and low in the Psalms, and you will find no such expression. It’s just not there. What is there is desperation, grief, anxiety, frustration, and lament. But in none of it is there justified anger against God. There is a world of difference between “How long, oh Lord” and “How DARE you, oh Lord?” These Psalms have a great deal of the former and none of the latter.
This discussion is not an academic speculation about how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. We all have skin in the game, and we are all going to suffer. Some people reading this are suffering right now. Some may be feeling that they are hanging on by a very thin thread. The last thing that these sufferers need to hear is that it is right for them to be angry with God. What that tells them is that it is okay to disapprove of God’s character and His ways.
But that is precisely the opposite of what the sufferer needs. And it is the opposite of what the Psalms are leading the sufferer to do. The Psalms are doing their level best to show us that no matter how low we feel, no matter how low we go, God is good and holy and trustworthy in all that He is and in all that He does. The faithful response to affliction is to believe in God’s goodness and faithfulness no matter how bad things get. This is the fight for faith that all of us have to wage when the chips are down.
The Bible commands us to “Be angry, and yet do not sin” (Eph. 4:26). What does this mean but that some anger is good and that some anger is bad? It is good and right to be angry at evil and at sin and at the Devil. It is sinful to be angry at what is good and right and true. And that is why it is never right to be angry at God. He is always good and right and true. To set yourself against God is to set yourself against what is good. No matter how painful and perplexing His ways may seem to us, it is never right for us to be angry at Him. Ever. But it is right for us to tell Him about it when we are.
I have seen people give in to their anger against God, and it shipwrecks their faith. When someone enters into a settled disapproval of God, that is the path of apostasy. It is not the path of healing and faith. If this path is pursued without repentance, it leads to judgment not to comfort. It is not loving or merciful to lead sufferers away from the only good and wise God who alone can bring them the comfort they need. And that is why there is so much at stake in this question and why we need to get this right. If we love each other, we need to be able to say to one another that it is never right to be angry at God, even though it is always right to tell Him about it when we are.
Postscript: John Piper has two helpful articles on this that I would commend to you:
Anger at sin is good (Mark 3:5), but anger at goodness is sin. That is why it is never right to be angry with God. He is always and only good, no matter how strange and painful his ways with us. Anger toward God signifies that he is bad or weak or cruel or foolish. None of those is true, and all of them dishonor him. Therefore it is never right to be angry at God. When Jonah and Job were angry with God, Jonah was rebuked by God (Jonah 4:9) and Job repented in dust and ashes (Job 42:6).
The second assumption that may cause people to stumble over the statement that it is never right to be angry with God is the assumption that God really does things that ought to make us angry. But, as painful as his providence can be, we should trust that he is good, not get angry with him. That would be like getting angry at the surgeon who cuts us. It might be right if the surgeon slips and makes a mistake. But God never slips.
This is why being angry at God is never right. It is wrong – always wrong – to disapprove of God for what he does and permits. “Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?” (Genesis 18:25). It is arrogant for finite, sinful creatures to disapprove of God for what he does and permits. We may weep over the pain. We may be angry at sin and Satan. But God does only what is right. “Yes, O Lord God, the Almighty, true and righteous are Your judgments” (Revelation 16:7).
But many who say it is right to be angry with God really mean it is right to express anger at God. When they hear me say it is wrong to be angry with God, they think I mean “stuff your feelings and be a hypocrite.” That’s not what I mean. I mean it is always wrong to disapprove of God in any of his judgments.