Is it Okay to Feel Angry With God?
"Jesus loves me this I know." Looking back, these lyrics may have been my first statement of faith. The words to this simple song are ingrained in my heart. Most Christians can speak of their love for God and His love for them pretty eloquently. We feel comfortable praising God. It feels natural to thank God for His blessings and bask in his goodness.
But what if we aren't feeling blessed? What if we are questioning God's goodness? We don't teach our children to sing, "Does Jesus love me? I hope so, but I'm not always sure," or "Jesus may love me, but this sure doesn't feel like love."
And maybe we should. David wrote songs of lament. He wrote a lot of them. He questioned God. He complained. He shouted his anger directly to God. Only we're so busy reading the psalms of lament with the bouncy, cheerful cadence of our bible reading voices, we skip right over the anguish.
I wasn't taught how to lament in church. I was taught to clap and dance and raise my hands. I was taught to smile and greet my neighbor as we extolled the goodness of God and how richly He had blessed us. So, when my son died from cancer after years of miracles - when the blessings stopped flowing, I felt untethered from church and unsure how to approach God.
I learned lament on my own. In the quiet, desperate hours of grief, I came face to face with my anger and disappointment. I wasn't just angry. I was angry with God. No songs from Sunday School had prepared me for the burning, heavy accusations that stirred up in my heart. What's more, I felt guilty for feeling angry. It didn't seem like the kind of emotion a Christian should acknowledge. But if I couldn't talk with God about my anger, I wouldn't have had anything to say to Him at all. So, I asked God my angry questions, and God didn't rebuke me. He reassured me that He knew me. He knew every part of me. My anger didn't surprise Him.
The psalms of lament are captured in the bible for us so that when we are confused, angry, hurt, disappointed, or full of doubt, we won't feel untethered from the church. If we taught our children to lament, they could face the brokenness of the world without also navigating an existential crisis of faith.
We have a model for how to process our frustration with God, but we don't study it, because it feels uncomfortable. So, when we inevitably come to a moment of despair in our lives, we feel that same discomfort. Those of us who muddle through on our own, find a way to embrace lament, but we may do it grudgingly. The psalms of lament give us permission to grieve, but since we don't see it modeled in polite Christian community, we feel a little shame: God may allow lament, but surely it's a lesser discipline. A concession. If you're weak and must lament, God will permit it, but then pull yourself together and get on with praising Him.
What if lament was not seen as a weak moment in our faith? What if lament made our faith stronger? What if we learned to lament well, knowing that our anger with God displays how comfortable we are in His love? I don't know about you, but I've never yelled at a stranger. I save up my anger for people who I'm confident won't reject me, even when I'm a total mess with them.
I want to encourage you to see lament as an essential practice of faith. Lament is an important step in your relationship with God. Our accusations and despair are not only permitted by God, there is also reason to believe they are esteemed. And that reason is this, the lamenting Psalms of David, the book of Lamentations, the stories of Jacob wrestling with God and Job questioning God's goodness, they were all preserved in the bible to be recalled throughout all of history. God believes that these human moments of doubt and disappointment are worthy of contemplation, fit for our edification.
What if God doesn't just tolerate your angry prayers? What if He is thankful for the authenticity and the opportunity these prayers present for a new kind of intimacy? What if God sees the prayers you're ashamed to pray as some of your brightest moments of faith, because they are the moments that draw you closest to Him?
I think it's worth talking about. And to that end, I made a one minute video to start the conversation about lament. If you enjoy it, I hope you'll share it, or this blog. And maybe someone who needs to lament can engage in this essential spiritual practice with confidence, unafraid that the expression of their emotions is a betrayal of their faith.
Want to go deeper with the spiritual practice of lament? Subscribe to my email list on my Free Resources Page and I'll send you my Guide to Practicing Lament.
Amy Noel Green is a Ted Speaker, author, and video game designer. She received international press attention for her work on the video game "That Dragon, Cancer." The video game tells the story of her son Joel who died from cancer at the age of five.
She is the author of the upcoming book, "Dear God, How Could You?" (When Joel died of cancer after years of miracles, Amy questioned God. She shouted her betrayed, angry questions at the God she no longer understood. She buried many miracles with Joel. She buried her relationship with God too, but God’s love for her refused to stay in the grave.) Subscribe for updates on the bottom of her about page, to be notified when her book is published.