Sunday, August 1, 2010

Sermon for August 1, 2010

Angry at God

Sometimes I hear people talk about feeling angry toward God. And sometimes they feel kind of guilty about it. Take this letter for instance. It was written to a newspaper columnist:
At an early age, my mother was taken from me and my family due to an illness. It was a terrible blow for all of us to take. My biggest struggle then and now is my anger. I acknowledge the existence of a higher power but find it hard to believe in God. I'm angry with him for taking my mother from me. It seems as though God is made out to be our savior, our forgiver and our friend. Why would he tear my family life asunder by taking her from us? I've moved away from the Lord as a result, angry that he robbed such a powerful figure from my life. How can I cope with and heal my anger with him?
The mother's death has not merely cost this man a mother. That alone is hard enough. His experience has alienated him from God. His sense of how and why he belongs in this world has shifted. The one whom he intimately called “God” is now a source of anger. He acknowledges the existence of a higher power but finds it hard to believe in God.

It's like saying you acknowledge the existence of your father, whose name is Fred, but now you're calling him Fred instead of Dad, or maybe even you're calling him "hey you." Because, while you know he's standing there, you're mad at him. And you don't trust him. So you choose a name that provides safe distance. For this man, even the word “God” fills him with images of an mean alpha male who rips families apart.

The people who wrote our scriptures knew this kind of anger. We read about it a lot in the Psalms. Listen to the opening words of Psalm 13:
Long enough, God— you've ignored me long enough.
I've looked at the back of your head long enough.
Long enough I've carried this ton of trouble,
lived with a stomach full of pain.
Long enough my arrogant enemies
have looked down their noses at me.
More often than not, we get angry at God over things over which we have no control. It may be a failed relationship. Or the death of a loved one. Or our growing grief over an unending health crisis. Or financial worries. Or any number of things about which we feel we have no control. If we can’t control it, then God must. Someone has to be in control.

So we get angry. And since no one else seems to be available, we get angry at God. And sometimes we feel guilty. The problem is, some of us have been told that it’s inappropriate to get angry at God. We worry that God's feelings will be hurt. Or worse yet, God will return our anger -- and most of us were raised to believe that God is much better at being angry than we can ever be. There is an old saying: Never try to teach a pig to sing; it wastes your time and it annoys the pig. Some people think the same reasoning applies to our relationship with God. Never get angry at God. It wastes your time and annoys God. And you do not want to be on the receiving end of God’s anger. Remember good old Jonathan Edward’s sermon, Sinners in the hands of an Angry God? Edwards wrote, “It is that natural men are held in the hand of God, over the pit of hell; they have deserved the fiery pit, and are already sentenced to it; and God is dreadfully provoked, his anger is as great towards them as to those that are actually suffering the executions of the fierceness of his wrath in hell.” No one wants to get that God angry!

I think that’s a bunch of nonsense. I say go ahead, be angry at God! Anger is a sign that something is wrong. And it’s OK to let God know about it.

God already knows that we are angry, and God knows why we are angry. God knows the feelings of helplessness, fear, confusion, and disappointment that lead to our anger. Sometimes we feel angry because we are powerless, and God knows our powerlessness. God knows the events and experiences that make us angry. Sometimes we get angry because we are hurt. And God understands pain. God might even share our anger!

Listen to this quote about anger:
I had no epiphany, no singular revelation, no moment of truth, but a steady accumulation of a thousand slights, a thousand indignities, a thousand unremembered moments, produced in me anger, a rebelliousness, a desire to fight the system that imprisoned my people.
Nelson Mandela wrote those words in his book Long Walk to Freedom. Mandela was truly angry at the injustice that occurred throughout the life of his people. He was not remorseful or ashamed of this anger — it was actually a source of blessing. Anger moved people enough to stand up, to fight for freedom, and to change the unjust system of oppression that was governing South Africa. What an incredible gift anger can be -- to be aware and, therefore, upset. Your anger can be a great motivator to help you seek justice and change in the world.

Our feelings do not surprise God. Instead of letting your anger block God, use your anger to let God in. Tell God how you are feeling. Let God know your deepest, darkest fears and concerns. God knows your sorrows and counts your tears. You may never get all the answers, but you may get something else. You may get comfort instead of answers. You may get motivated to change your part of the world. You might even get inspired to change your own life.

You know something else? God can take it. Do you think your anger is so intense that God will crumple before you in a mess of tears and hurt feelings? Is God like an over-sensitive child? Of course not! God has faced greater anger than ours and survived! God’s shoulders are broad and powerful. God can certainly deal with our anger. We do not run the risk of harming God when we are being honest about our feelings.

I think being honest with God is a good thing. To protest against God is still good. You know what is not good? To simply ignore God. Anger, yes. Protest, yes. Affirmation, yes. But indifference? Never.

So if God already knows about our anger, understands the source of our anger, recognizes why we are angry, and can easily handle our anger, why are we reluctant or guilty about expressing how we feel? Rather than keeping it all pent up inside us, sometimes just letting go and yelling our heads off can be a good thing. Too often we let our anger fester inside us, building up and growing until it seeks escape in destructive and violent ways. Let off some of that steam. Go outside and yell at God. Sit in your room and tell God what you think. Pace your living room and give God a good talking to! You just might feel better and God won't be any worse off - honest! You might even be able to do some clear and constructive thinking about what made you angry after venting your emotions. Here’s an idea: go to a private safe place, perhaps alone in your car. Turn your radio up loud, wind up your windows and verbalize all those angry feelings to God in all their intensity. Do it for 30 days. The first day, take 30 minutes and vent. The next day, try it for 29 minutes. On day three, be alone for 28 minutes, and so on. See what happens by day 30.

You might just come to realize that God has a different plan for your life. Consider this passage from Colossians 3:
Since you have been raised to new life with Christ, set your sights on the realities of heaven, where Christ sits in the place of honor at God’s right hand. Think about the things of heaven, not the things of earth. For you died to this life, and your real life is hidden with Christ in God. And when Christ, who is your life, is revealed to the whole world, you will share in all his glory. So put to death the sinful, earthly things lurking within you . . . now is the time to get rid of anger, rage, malicious behavior, slander, and dirty language. Don’t lie to each other, for you have stripped off your old sinful nature and all its wicked deeds. Put on your new nature, and be renewed as you learn to know your Creator and become like him.
I think it’s OK to be angry at God, but it’s not OK to stay angry. That only hurts you. Ongoing anger doesn’t affect God. But it changes you. Ongoing anger changes the way you perceive reality. Ongoing anger harms your relationships. Paul advises us to get rid of feelings like anger, rage, and malice, because they make our lives worse off. Over time, these feelings keep us from experiencing the liberating, transforming, renewing, glorious new life that God wants us to have.

Anger is a holy, if difficult intimacy. Whatever causes you to feel pain is now part of your spiritual journey. It calls for strength, and honesty, and the steadfast assurance that God is for us.

God, thank you that in the tragedies of life you know, you care, and you understand. Please help us to understand why bad things often happen to good people, and lead us to the help we need to understand our anger at you. Use us -- our lives, our emotions, our fears, our strengths, and our weaknesses – to fulfill your aims for us, our families, and the world.


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