A Biblical basis for expressing anger at God
Last week I posed this question, ‘If anger is the correct emotional response to injustice, surely being angry at God is calling God unjust. Therefore, is it a sin to be angry with God?‘
I was really grateful for your answers, which were all thoughtful and thought-provoking. They were so good that I collated some into 6 Top Tips for dealing with Anger at God.
I have been thinking about how I might approach answering that question from the Bible, and I immediately thought of Job.
I have spent the past month or so looking in detail at Job. After my extensive study I have come to the conclusion that Job and I could honestly be BFFs. So often he says exactly what I am thinking, and I find myself cheering him on in his speeches. I look forward to having a good catch up with him in heaven.
What is Job about?
Job 1 starts with a cosmic wager: Satan bets God that Job, the most righteous man on earth, will not remain righteous if he undergoes great suffering. So God allows Job to undergo great suffering, without any sort of explanation.
His friends, on the other hand, have plenty of explanations, which centre around ‘God only punishes those who have grievously sinned, so you need to repent of whatever it is you’ve done wrong.’ Poor Job knows he hasn’t done anything wrong and is baffled, and desperate to be vindicated.
This is the big question of Job: will Job curse God and turn his back on God? Or will he prove God right, that it is possible to undergo great suffering and remain righteous?
1. Does Job charge God with wrongdoing?
Job 1 says that Job’s initial response was to respond in worship and acceptance, and in v 22 we get the important statement, ‘Job did not sin by charging God with wrongdoing.’ This would imply that it is indeed a sin to be angry at God, and certainly wrong to question his morality.
The funny thing is, though, throughout the rest of the book, Job spends much of his time telling his friends that God has got it wrong and that God is being unfair. Although he doesn’t ‘curse God and die’, as his wife suggests, he does question God.
His speeches are raw and passionate, and they say the things that we dare not voice aloud to God ourselves. Here are a few quotes. As you read them, ask yourself,
- Does he sound like he is angry with God?
- Does it sound like he is questioning God’s morality?
“Does it please you [God] to oppress me,
to spurn the work of your hands,
while you smile on the schemes of the wicked?” Job 10:3
“Surely, O God, you have worn me out;
you have devastated my entire household.” Job 16:7
“He [God] throws me into the mud,
and I am reduced to dust and ashes.
I cry out to you, O God, but you do not answer;
I stand up, but you merely look at me.” Job 30:19-20
“Oh, that I had someone to hear me!
I sign now my defence – let the Almighty answer me;
let my accuser put his indictment in writing.” Job 31:35
“As surely as God lives, who has denied me justice,
the Almighty, who has made me taste bitterness of soul…” Job 27:1
“…then know that God has wronged me
and drawn his net around me.
Though I cry, ‘I’ve been wronged!’ I get no response;
though I call for help, there is no justice.” Job 19:6-7
It sounds very much like Job is both angry at God and questioning his morality. This isn’t just the ‘I’m-feeling-angry-right-now-but-I-know-deep-down-that’s-wrong-because-you’re-a-good-God’ kind of anger but the “God!-this-isn’t-fair!-you’ve-got-it-wrong-this-time” anger.
2. Are Job’s angry words sinful?
With most other books of the Bible, like when Jonah gets angry with God (‘I am angry enough to die!’) we aren’t directly told whether what they said was sinful. God doesn’t condemn Jonah for his anger, but then again, Jonah isn’t what you would call an exemplary saint – he ran away because didn’t want the Ninevites to be forgiven and when they repented he had a massive sulk.
The book of Job is unusual in that we do get to discover God’s verdict, which comes at the end.
Throughout the book, Job is crying out for an encounter with God, so that he can justify himself to God. Yet when God finally does speak, far from starting in on his justification, Job repents of his hasty words. He is just thankful to have had an encounter with the living God:
“My ears had heard of you
but now my eyes have seen you.
Therefore I despise myself
and repent in dust and ashes.” Job 42: 5-6
Because he repents, this could suggest that his angry words were sinful.
However, God’s verdict on Job’s words comes just a verse later to challenge this perception. God’s proclamation is astonishing:
“After the Lord had spoken these words to Job, the Lord said to Eliphaz the Temanite: “My anger burns against you and against your two friends, for you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has.” (Job 42:7, ESV).
That’s right – the pious-sounding ‘God never punishes righteous people and He is entirely good and not to be questioned’ friends’ speeches are declared wrong.
Remarkably, angsty, angry, questioning Job is the one who is declared righteous and has spoken of God rightly. And this is not just at the beginning of the book, before his speeches, but at the end as well.
What do we conclude from Job?
We end up with two paradoxes:
1. Job initially ‘did not sin by charging God with wrongdoing’ – but then spends 30-odd chapters seemingly doing just that.
2. God declares Job and his words righteous, but Job repents anyway.
There are some who will say, ‘it’s fine to be angry at God, and we can be as angry as we like.’ There are others (like Jerry Bridges) who will say, ‘it is never fine to be angry with God and it is a sin.’
The book of Job contradicts both of these bald statements with a more nuanced approach. I like Job’s paradoxes better, these contradictory statements held in tension.
Although Job got angry and said that God wasn’t being fair, God still proclaims Job as righteous and to have spoken rightly.
Job is praised for his righteousness, for his questions, for his truthfulness. God wins his wager. For all his anger and questioning of God, he is the one who really knew God and sought after him. He clamoured for an audience with God.
Conversely, although Job is not rebuked for his anger, Job still feels sorrow. He repents even though he doesn’t need to.
Why? Because he met with God.
Job asked for two things; for his suffering to be taken away, and to be given an audience with God (Job 13:20-22). Then, when he did have an audience with God, he didn’t plead his case, and he didn’t beg for the suffering to end.
This is why Job is praiseworthy. In the end, the desire to be vindicated was not as strong as his desire to meet with God. Once he had had an encounter with God, his anger disappeared. It was enough to know God and to have been heard by Him. When you meet with God and are confronted by his majesty and goodness, your heart is changed, your knees wobble, your pride falls, the things you were so desperately clinging to fall away. The questions may still be there but they are asked with a different tone.
There is an anger that leads to a renewed relationship – and there is an anger that distances ourselves from God. It is my conviction that the kind of red hot, passionate, dialoguing anger of Job’s is not sinful but an essential part of the process and conversation with God when we are faced with things that we don’t understand. Don’t worry about the red hot anger, worry when it solidifies into a cold resentment,a bitter silence that pushes us further from God and communion with Him.
Pastorally, I don’t think we should be telling people that their anger with God is a sin. We should be reading Job with them. We should be feeling with them the sorrow and confusion and fear. We should be praying for the only thing that has the power to take away that anger: that God meets them in midst of their questions and speaks to them out of the storm.
Over to you:
- Which of Job’s words most surprised or struck you?
- Do you agree that these paradoxes are a more helpful way of approaching the question of whether anger with God is sinful?
If you are angry at God at the moment, ask:
- Is my desire to be vindicated stronger than my desire to meet with God?
- How can I ensure that my anger is ‘red hot’ rather than ‘cool bitterness’?