22 October 2010

Angry with God? Is it a ‘Sin’ or Not?

Angry with God
Who me?! Never! I love God!!!
by Dér Stépanos Dingilian, Ph.D.


"Angry with God?! Who me?! Never! I love God!!!" This is a typical response of persons to whom I generally point out that they are ultimately upset at God. The most often response is of horror and complete denial. It appears that anger towards God is a synonym for disbelief in God. The intent of this work is to help persons realize that ‘anger towards God,’ instead of being a sign of disbelief or disrespect, is one of the first steps towards a deeper, more fulfilling and trusting relationship with God. It is a sign that we are ready to involve God more actively in our daily activities, to dialogue with God on a more personal basis and even follow His guidance in our life. Thus, contrary to popular belief, anger towards God can be a positive sign of the potential personal relationship with Him, as opposed to anger being a sign of disbelief in or denial of God. In order to comprehend this view a different understanding of ‘anger’ is necessary than is generally accepted.

A Different Understanding of ‘Anger’
Anger is a total spiritual state towards what is believed to be less than ideal. Anger in itself is morally neither positive nor negative. The manifestation or expression of anger determines its moral value.

Anger occurs within a relationship – The perception that causes anger is not necessarily based upon a total and clear understanding of a situation. Instead, it is based upon one’s expectations and perception of the extent to which his or her expectations were met. Anger occurs within the context of a relationship, either real or perceived. Even if I seem angry at myself, I am actually angry at another. I become angry at myself only when I impose expectations of others with which I disagree upon my own. It is then that my whole being rejects these foreign expectations. I may call them ‘expectations of myself,’ but in fact, I have made them so because others have presented them to me and I have accepted them without understanding.

Anger affects the whole being – Anger is not just a logical thought or an emotion that simply dissipates. Instead, it is the complete spiritual state of a person in response to one’s spiritual expectations and his or her perceived responses in comparison to those expectations. In other words, it is a complete heart, mind and soul stance of a human being within a relationship with another person. Consequently, the understanding and manifestation of anger affects the whole person, and must be dealt with within a relationship between two persons. Anger cannot be dealt with by an individual person by himself or herself. It must be comprehend and expressed through the appropriate means within a relationship.

 Anger implies a perceived relationship – As mentioned above, an implication of the above is that anger implies a perceived relationship, regardless of real or imaginary. Therefore, it is crucial to recognize that when a person becomes angry with another it confirms that there is a perceived relationship. Generally, we are angered most by the actions of those who are close to us. We are not as angered when someone along the freeway or the street makes an obscene gesture at us. But if our loved one does not use what we consider the ‘proper’ tone of voice when asking for a cup of coffee, then we are hurt for hours or perhaps even days. Thus, the closer we perceive a person to be to us, the more we sense anger when that person does something which we consider inappropriate. 

Moments of anger reveal true expectations – The true expectations of two persons within a relationship become apparent during moments of anger. This may be when two people are having an argument, or maybe afterwards. In fact one of the persons may have left on a trip, or been divorced and far away, or even passed away. When we sense anger towards that person, we are actually realizing how important that person is or was to fulfilling our expectations and hopes in life.

 Anger can be a gateway towards a deeper relationship – Therefore, it is crucial that we recognize that anger within a relationship can actually be the gateway to a deeper, more meaningful and insightful relationship. Conversely when angry emotions or spiritual states are completely suppressed, denied or ignored, then the relationship between two persons begins cooling off and crumbling. Psychologists recognize that depression is generally anger that is suppressed and eventually turned towards oneself. For such persons, recognizing anger, dealing with its root causes and expressing it safely, brings a sense of peace, joy and hope into their life.

As it is apparent, recognizing and dealing with anger is not only necessary to prevent such spiritual and emotional vulnerabilities such as prolonged depression, but it is also necessary in order to form lasting and supportive relationships, experience joy and happiness in life, and live a meaningful and fulfilling life.

Some Typical Causes of Anger
As mentioned above, ‘anger’ is a sign of an unmet or unfulfilled expectation within a relationship. Having said this, it is apparent that there are numerous situations that give rise to such a perception. Understanding some of them, especially as they relate to spirituality within relationships, family and career, can help one recognize anger and seek ways to deal with it.

Anger within a Spousal Relationship – Anger within family relationships is among the most common and powerful forms of anger. Generally spouses become angry at one another because their expectations of each other have not been fulfilled. It is important to realize that this anger cannot be avoided. In fact, if it does not occur, then it is a sign that the relationship is either not intimate enough and/or it is not developing towards greater understanding and intimacy. However, when anger occurs within a relationship, just as destructive as suppressing anger can be the concept of ‘let it all hang out.’ At moments of uncontrolled anger, hurtful words, or even psychological or physical abuse can follow very quickly. This threshold is very low and easy to cross because anger affects the whole being of the person, and when it is left uncontrolled, the whole person loses control – physically, mentally and spiritually. This is a totally unacceptable situation because of the irreversible and destructive consequences.

Parents and Children – Another form of anger that occurs within a family is that of the children towards their parents. In fact, according to some psychologists, this anger begins very early on life, in the infantile stage, even when the child cannot express clearly himself or herself. Again, there are numerous misconceptions about anger – either suppressing it or completely ignoring it and allowing it to be expressed later on in an unchecked manner without any guidance. D.W. Winnicott, who studied children in England after World War II, points out that what appears to be an unacceptable mischievous behavior of a child may actually be a sign of hope – the hope on the part of that child that he or she will find a relationship within which he or she can express one’s expectations and receive some feedback, even if it is negative. In short, a mischievous child may be looking for a person who cares enough about him or her. When this relationship is not found, the young person becomes angrier and adds to his or her mischievous activities. He also points out that unfortunately, many of these signs are not recognized, and as the person becomes older, the consequences of such ‘mischievous’ activities becomes more destructive in nature and such a person may actually end up in a prison. 

Another difficulty with anger in children is that they are often left unresolved and the children express them later on in life when they are older – be it in school, in college, at the workplace or most often, in the family which they form. For this reason, Sigmund Freud points out that children basically solve their own parents’ problems. Whether this statement is completely true or not, it points out that we as human beings are never completely free from the influence of our parents. Furthermore, ourselves as parents, we need to be extremely aware of how we deal with anger ourselves, and what we teach our children about the cause and resolution of anger. Unfortunately our anger towards our parents does not become apparent until we begin forming our own family and we too become parents. When we are placed in the same situation as our parents, it is then that our anger becomes clearer. 

Anger at the Workplace – Anger within a career situation is also very common because the expectations form a very sharp dichotomy. On the one hand, the expectations appear to be very objective: "You accomplish this and this is what you will receive." Unfortunately, not all projects go smoothly or even end up with the same objectives with which they started. So generally speaking, there is plenty of room for interpretation. The ‘interpretations’ give room for subjective judgments which create disparity between expectations and responses, almost assuredly resulting in anger. Interestingly enough, even one’s anger at the workplace or within a career can be traced back to his or her family relationships and interpretation of anger.

There are numerous books that are written on the topics presented above. Therefore, our intent here will not be to rehash and re-present the same information that exists in the literature. Rather, our intent will be to discuss what we believe to be the root cause, remedy and path towards understanding, healing and growing from relationships that involve anger. This root cause we believe to be ‘anger towards God!’

Anger towards God
Defining ‘God’ – Here we will use ‘anger towards God’ and ‘angry with God’ interchangeably. In order to comprehend what is meant by ‘anger with God,’ we must first define ‘God.’ The reality of the matter is that most persons cannot define who is God. They may have formal expressions – such as ‘God,’ ‘Father,’ ‘The Holy Trinity,’ ‘Jesus Christ,’ etc. Yet, what those terms mean and how they affect their daily lives are unclear and not completely articulated. In short, their spirituality, relationship between God and the human being is not defined. Anger towards God can also occur to those who have articulated God’s role in their life. The point is, whether we have a clear understanding of God or not, anger towards Him can occur.

Developing anger towards God – Whether we have a clear understanding of God or not, we assign God attributes, responsibilities and an expected place in our life and priorities. When an unpleasant situation takes place in life we tend to blame others for the outcome. If that accusation is thrown back at us and we cannot find a human entity that will take responsibility for the situation and correct it, then we generally find fault with ourselves. This can be the onset of depression unless we consciously take some action to change our views. 

Direct and Indirect ways of being angry with God Eventually, we become frustrated with our actions, stop blaming ourselves and begin blaming God. Some of the statements may be clearly articulated statements such as "God, why did you do this?!" At others times, the anger towards God is hidden in more indirect ‘politically correct’ ways: "I guess this is how life is; those who have power get everything and we are left to suffer!" or "Life is lousy and I guess I just have to accept it!" All these are ways that we communicate to God that He truly is not the all-powerful, almighty and all knowing God because obviously there are situations that are beyond His control. 

Sudden awakening of anger – No matter how directly or indirectly we blame God for our troubles, suddenly we are awakened with an unpleasant reality: The attributes, responsibilities and expectations that we set upon God are not fulfilled! As a result, we become angry with God!!! This moment can be a moment of greater understanding and intimacy with God, or it can be a moment of further distancing between God and us. The choice is often ours. However, regardless of the outcome, it confirms that we have a relationship with God, even though we may not have articulated and expressed it clearly in the past. This is an exciting moment for the person seeking a deeper and more fulfilling understanding of life through spirituality, that is, our relationship with God.

Anger: Is it a ‘Sin’ or Not?
Qualifying ‘anger’ in the Bible – In many faithful circles ‘anger,’ let alone ‘anger towards God’ is considered as a sin. Commentators have provided various reasons for this development, yet, ‘anger’ in itself is not considered as sinful: "Be angry but sin not." [Psalm 4:4] Rather, what is considered as sinful is the destructive consequence of anger: "A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger. A fool gives full vent to his anger, but a wise man keeps himself under control." [Proverbs 15:1-2] In other words, in this case, fully and uncontrollably expressing oneself while angry is seen as being not prudent, a sign of foolishness as opposed to a sinful action. Thus, in the Bible, anger is qualified based upon its context and consequence.

Anger in the ministry of Christ – The above is also seen in the Gospels, during the earthly ministry of Christ. For example, when Christ saw how the spiritual leaders of the time were not taking care of the people, he was angered: "He (Jesus) looked around at them in anger and, deeply distressed at their stubborn hearts, said to the man, "Stretch out your hand." He stretched it out, and his hand was completely restored." [St. Mark 3:5-6] In other words, when Christ saw the lack of trust in God among the spiritual leaders of the time, he was angered because the situation was less than ideal. The spiritual leaders were supposed to teach the people about the compassion of God and guide them towards greater trust in God. Instead the leaders themselves were lacking in this very compassion and trust. 

The Jerusalem Temple also appeared less than ideal as a place of worship because of all the activities that were taking place inside. This too caused anger in Christ: "So he made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple area, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. To those who sold doves he said, ‘Get these out of here! How dare you turn my Father's house into a market!’" [St. John 2:15-16] This anger was recognized to have been prophesied: "His disciples remembered that it is written: ‘Zeal for your house will consume me.’" [St. John 2:17] In fact, here, anger and its expression is seen as a positive sign of love and commitment to God.

Anger towards the Disciples Christ also expressed anger towards at least one of his disciples, St. Peter. It is interesting that this situation was actually set-up by St. Peter himself. After Christ first spoke of his imminent suffering and death, "Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. ‘Never, Lord!’ he said. ‘This shall never happen to you!’ Jesus turned and said to Peter, ‘Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men.’" [St. Matthew 16:22-23] It is interesting that St. Peter had no trouble expressing his anger towards Christ by rebuking him. Christ in turn expressed his anger towards St. Peter. But the anger of Christ was not because St. Peter rebuked him, but rather because St. Peter did not understand God’s plan and the mission which Christ had.

Anger towards God – However, Christ was not only expressing his anger towards human beings: "My God, my God. Why have You forsaken me!" [St. Matthew 27:46] This too is an expression of anger by Christ, except this time it is towards God the Father. So, if the Son of God who believes that he will be resurrected, senses anger while facing death, then humans who face difficulties in life are surely expected to be angry as well.

Response of Christ to anger – Yet, anger does not justify hurtful actions towards others. During every step of the way from his arrest to his crucifixion and death, Christ was taunted to do something to rescue himself. During such moments of anger, he was able to contain it without suppressing it. For example, he expressed his anger towards the authorities when he said: "My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by Jews. But now, my kingdom is from another place." [St. John 18:36] He asserted himself, rebuked them, but he did not take any action towards the people and his oppressors even though he was angry. Yet even Christ could not contain all the anger within himself, rather had to express it within a relationship. So he eventually expressed his anger towards God and patiently waited for His response. This is an extremely important lesson and guide as to how to direct our anger and on whom to place our hopes for a response. By the way, this does necessarily imply that we need to be pacifists in life. Because, although Christ said that he would not fight at the time of his arrest and crucifixion, but he stated (for example St. Matthew 24:29 ff) that eventually he will come back in his full kingdom. This is the Second Coming of Christ. 

Anger a gateway towards greater trust – In following the example of Christ, we too are expected to trust God during our angry moments and through it channel our anger in the service of God, as Christ did in the Temple, as opposed to committing sin. Interestingly enough, as we continue reading Psalm 22 from which the words of Christ on the Cross are taken, we realize that this anger and these words are the beginning of a path towards a greater trust in God. As we read in another Psalm: "In your anger do not sin; when you are on your beds, search your hearts and be silent. Offer right sacrifices and trust in the LORD." [Psalm 4:4-5] Thus, the key to the spiritual response to anger is the trust in God – the affirmation of our spirituality, the relationship between God and us! A distinction begins to emerge here – the difference between ‘faith in God’ and ‘trust in God.’

"Faith" in comparison with "Trust" in God
A further distinction — While reading how some of the 1915 Armenian Genocide survivors recount their experiences and especially references to God, a very important distinction arises: While many have faith in God, as being all-powerful and almighty, but not all of them trust that God will give them the best in life. Thus, one may believe that God exists, thus have ‘faith in God,’ yet, that same person may also believe that God is out to punish him or her, and therefore, not have ‘trust in God.’
This distinction also becomes apparent in the Gospels where Christ criticizes the spiritual leaders of the time. Christ does not say that these leaders do not believe in God, but rather points out that they do not understand the true compassionate nature of God, and therefore either guide the people astray or overburden them with responsibilities. For example: "On hearing this, Jesus said, ‘It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: `I desire compassion, not sacrifice.' For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.’" [St. Matthew 9:12-13]

‘Trust’ in the mother-child relationship – In the development of the child, trust between the child and the mother is developed only when the infant senses that a situation is less than ideal, expresses own anger, and the mother responds to the child’s needs. Thus, trust develops in a relationship because an anger is expressed and a positive response is received from the other person. In the Psychosocial Theory of Development by Erik Erikson, the development of trust is the very first and fundamental step in the healthy development of a child. Unless this trust is developed, the future steps of development remain unstable.

Trauma, abuse and anger – Therefore, ‘trust in God’ develops only after a situation occurs when we become angry, express that anger towards God, and in turn we perceive that He responds to us positively. In this way, ‘faith in God’ turns to a more personal, intimate and dependable ‘trust in God.’ Often, when persons are not allowed to express their anger towards God, these faithful people are actually robbed of entering a deeper more meaningful relationship with Him. Instead of God becoming a dependable trusting God who gives hope and rescues during moments of crisis, God becomes a distant impersonal abstraction Who does not respond to persons’ needs. This is most specially true for victims of trauma, such as a Genocide, or victims of rape and abuse. The only way that such persons can deal with the anger, which has actually turned into rage, is by directing it towards God, expressing and resolving it through a guided relationship with a trained spiritual professional.

"Explaining One’s Anger to God" or "Being Angry With God"?
The question arises as to whether ‘explaining one’s anger to God’ in a most formal and diplomatic way is different than actually ‘being angry with God.’ In reality, it does not matter much when we realize that the whole of creation is contained in God and within His guidance and Providence. Lets take a situation from our daily life. When we are angry at work or in the school, we generally complain directly to the one who is in authority, because he or she who is in charge. Our statement is generally short and to the point: "You’re in charge here! Do something!!!" Therefore, if we are angry with any aspect of creation, knowing that God is really in charge of the whole creation, it makes sense then that we will eventually direct our anger towards God and ask Him to take charge. Consider this passage: "When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God and the testimony they had maintained. They called out in a loud voice, ‘How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?’ Then each of them was given a white robe, and they were told to wait a little longer, until the number of their fellow servants and brothers who were to be killed as they had been was completed." [Revelation 6:9-11] It is clear that these souls were expressing their anger towards God, and God explained to them why their blood was not avenged as yet. In fact, God reminded them that their anger will be resolved on His timeframe, not theirs.

Didactic aspect of expressing anger to God – Expressing one’s anger to God is also important for another reason. Only God can truly show us the path to understanding why evil and wickedness still exist in this world. This was apparent from the passage above from the Book of Revelation. Thus, God shows us the whole picture as no other can. And when we realize that a less than ideal situation exists because God has allowed it to exist, then we are comforted because we know that "God works all things for the good of those who love Him." [Romans 8:28]

A prayer of the Armenian Apostolic Orthodox Church There is an interesting prayer that is said in the Armenian Apostolic Orthodox Church in the home of the deceased after all the funeral services are conducted. The prayer acknowledges that God is the One who strikes and yet heals: "O Heavenly Father, Who are compassionate and comforting in all things. You Who comforts us during all of our tribulations, the One Who strikes and the One Who heals, and You never abandon Your creatures, provide now sobriety and comfort . . ." [Mashdotz – The Book of Rituals of the Armenian Apostolic Church]

Therefore, it does not matter whether we explain our anger to God or be angry with Him. In the first case we are expressing our anger at Him indirectly through His creation, and in the second case, we are expressing it directly to Him because we know that He is the source of all. Learning from the leadership and exemplary life of Christ, we know that no matter how we approach God, He will understand and remind us through a popular statement: "The Buck Stops Here!" The only way to fully comprehend and resolve our anger is to take it to God and patiently wait for His response: "This calls for patient endurance on the part of the saints who obey God's commandments and remain faithful to Jesus." [Revelation 14:12]



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