Have you ever felt angry at God? Don’t worry—you’re literally incapable of hurting his feelings. Joe Heschmeyer explains what it means to be angry with God.
Joe Heschmeyer: When we talk about whether it’s okay to be angry with God or not, at no point should we have this idea that we’re gonna hurt God’s feelings. Like, God is totally perfect and he created us out of an abundance of love, and he doesn’t need our love. He doesn’t need our worship for his own sake as if he’s lacking anything. That’s the first, and in some ways the most important piece to get in place.
Like, when we talk about what we should or shouldn’t do in relation to God, that’s not for God’s good, that’s for our good, because it’s for our good that we’re in right relation with him, because he he made us in such a way that we’ll only be happy with truth, goodness, and beauty. He is perfect truth, goodness, and beauty, so if we rebel from that we’re only hurting ourselves, we’re not actually hurting God.
So with that said, like, what do we make of this idea of being angry with God or wrestling with God? And I have always been heartened by Genesis 32 where Jacob wrestles with an angel who is said to be the Lord, and that’s how he gets his name changed from Jacob to Israel. So literally, when we talk about the Church as the new Israel, or when we talk about the Israelites, when we talk about Israel in general, this name is coming from “the one who wrestles with God.” That striving with God is built into the religion, even in the name of the religion. It’s something that we should be doing, something that’s actually positively encouraged.
And often we get mad with God for things a lot more trivial than something like MS, which is, you know, really serious. I’m reminded of Jonah 4, where Jonah is mad because he preaches and the Ninevites, who he hates, convert. And then he’s so mad that he tells God he wants to die. And so God has a gourd plant kind of blossom over him and then it dies, and then Jonah is furious with God again because this plant that he really liked for a day died. And in fact, in Jonah 4:9, God says to him “Do you do well to be angry for the plant?” And Jonah says to him “I do well to be angry, angry enough to die!” And then God doesn’t say “Don’t ever be angry with me,” he says instead “You pity the plant for which you didn’t labor, you didn’t make it grow, which came into being at night and perished in a night. Should I not pity Nineveh?”
And so in other words, God uses this anger, this frustration that Jonah has, and shows him something true on the basis of it rather than reproving him for being mad. All of that gives us the green light to know: one, it’s okay to feel your feelings. Like, it’s okay to be frustrated, it’s okay to be angry, it’s okay to feel like God has done you an injustice and to go to him with those things knowing that the truth of the matter is God is all good, that all of the suffering that we have, God can do something with that, and then he’s bigger than the little bits that we see. That doesn’t mean we just kind of, like, swallow our suffering, pretend it doesn’t hurt, pretend like we’re not frustrated, like, no. No, take all of that to him. Read the Psalms and see how often the psalmist cries out, basically accusing God of betraying him. These are inspired scriptures in which we’re given the green light to just vent all of those things even though we know theologically that’s not the full story, because we know there’s a bigger picture we’re just not seeing.
Host: Theresa, the second one?
Caller: The second one, it was: Sister said to her, you know, she said some very wonderful things, but then she said “Jesus has chosen this for you.” And I really take offense at that, because that’s flawed. It sounds like Calvinism, it sounds like predestination. We are radically free, the universe is radically free, because love is radically free and love has to be free. And to say “Jesus has chosen this for you, has such repercussions.
Host: Theresa, I’m going to let Joe respond to that, but you don’t believe that that Jesus sometimes chooses a cross for us to carry?
Caller: I think that the world—no, I think that the world is radically free. Jesus is love, Jesus has put—God has put this world into existence and we are radically free.
Host: Okay, Joe? I’m not trying to cut you off, Theresa, it’s just that we’re right up against the break, so I gotta let Joe respond. Joe?
Joe Heschmeyer: Yeah, I would say: I think we want to watch out for the idea that creation is radically free of the creator. Like, that’s not either, I think, logically metaphysically sound or what we see in Scripture. It’s true we have free will, but it’s not true that, like, creation operates totally independently of the creator. And I don’t know all the context of the original comment, so if I’m missing some important details I’m sorry about that.
I would just say in Hebrews around verse 5 where the author says “My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor lose courage when you are punished by him. For the Lord disciplines him whom he loves and chastises every son whom he receives.” Meaning: like, we see all throughout the New Testament this idea that you may be given some sort of cross or some sort of burden. In John 9 we have the man born blind and we’re told explicitly by Jesus this is done for the glory of God so the man can be healed and brought to faith. All of those things, those short-term physical suffering—I mean short-term in the span of, like, an earthly life; this guy had been blind for decades, still short term compared to the eternity that he was facing—that God allows those things to happen for our own good. That doesn’t mean he’s punishing us, right? Like, that’s why he he distinguishes between discipline and actual punishment, like you you are training the Christians, you’re training your children to be something more. That’s kind of the idea.
So I don’t know if that gets to the heart of what was said, and then the whole back and forth, but I just say, like, when suffering comes along, it’s not because God is too powerless to stop it or too apathetic to stop it; suffering comes along in part because God can bring good from it. Like, you’re right: partly it’s because he wants to respect our freedom, that’s a good that he wants to bring from it right there, but also because he can bring more good from it than the suffering itself causes.