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    The Waterfall at Tivoli, by Abraham Teerlink, 1824

    Is It Right to Be Angry with God?

    Anger isn’t a virtue, but it is a fact.

    By Lore Ferguson Wilbert

    October 3, 2022
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    • Sahara Lefevre

      "Anger is a fact......admitting we have it is the beginning of a kind of healing only God can do." Very touching lines. Thank you from my heart.

    I’ve been angry at God. I don’t call it anger most of the time. I use other words, like dissatisfied or doubting, or phrases like I think I know best or I’m afraid you won’t give me what I want.

    I’m very diplomatic about my anger with God most of the time because a God who controls thunder and lightning can do a lot of damage. I bargain with him, cajole, beg, wait impatiently. But mostly my anger expresses itself as indifference, and at its worst, as indolence or laziness.

    I take the position that if God isn’t going to change my circumstances, well, I’m not either.

    That may not seem like anger, but it’s a particularly insidious kind of anger. It’s like a stalemate where no one surrenders, where the players just keep repeating the same moves over and over again (and again and again and again), each one refusing to declare the other the victor.

    Whenever one of those online quizzes comes up with What Bible Character Are You? I’m invariably Jonah. I’d rather sit in the muck of a fish’s guts than do what I don’t want to do. I would rather jump into a stormy sea than go live in a place I don’t want to live. I would rather sleep through a storm than call on God to change it.

    I’ve read the end of the story; I know who wins in this great battle between good and evil. I know it’s not me, not exactly, not as I am today. I know who the King is and who the game-master is. And until his kingdom is established in its fullness on earth, I would rather do anything but mess around with this mess. The hull of a ship, the inside of a fish’s belly, the bottom of the sea – all of that seems safer to me than what God might have me do while he puts all things to rights in the world. Being used by God in the work of putting the world to rights feels terrifying to me because I don’t know exactly what that will require of me.

    The Waterfall at Tivoli, by Abraham Teerlink, 1824

    Abraham Teerlink, The Waterfall at Tivoli, oil on canvas, 1824

    While I’m in the hull or the belly, like Jonah, I whisper the right words to God. I remember who he is, but the moment I’m spit back out on solid ground, I forget again. The anger simmers up again, and I want nothing more than to find a cozy spot in which to remain until I die.

    At times I’ve even spiritualized my desire for inaction. Eugene Peterson wrote in his book, Under the Unpredictable Plant, about Jonah, “The pastoral itch to be ‘where the action is’ should be resisted.” For a long time, I held to a picture that the real God-work was done in small, almost imperceptible ways, so that even in my moments of “hiding out,” I could defend the work God was doing. Faithfulness meant living the smallest life I could.

    The truth is, though, that I make my life small to avoid my anger at God that simmers over when the big things don’t turn out like I wanted them to. When my expectations are unmet by him, I can begin to resent him – regardless of whether he ever promised to meet my expectations in his Word. 

    I wrote my last book in fits and starts. It was on a difficult subject and in a difficult time in our history. The chapters were longer than I’d have liked them to be, and it was the work of a teacher, more than the work of me.

    It was a book on the incarnation of God, the embodiment of humans, and the ways we interact with one another as bodies. At its core it was a book on touch, though it was so much more. But just a few weeks after it was released to the world, the world went on lockdown because of the Covid-19 pandemic. We were being told to keep our distance from even those in our own homes, to avoid touching, to wear masks obscuring half our faces.

    My work for the previous two years suddenly felt not just out of touch but also obsolete. We needed books about suffering, living in isolation, mental health, and how to live through an unprecedented pandemic.  We didn’t need books encouraging humans to draw nearer to one another when we were being told by scientists and doctors to maintain a distance of six feet between us.

    I was crushed. I remember a day when I threw one of those beautifully bound books across the couch in frustration. “This is what happens,” I exclaimed to my husband, “whenever I try to do anything good in the world!” Whenever I come out of my hovel or hole or hibernation and take a risk, it just seems to go really, really badly.

    The book didn’t completely tank, but my publisher and I agreed that releasing a book about touch on the cusp of the pandemic didn’t bode well for its success. I gave myself three months of hard marketing, and when it was over, I barely said another word about the book. It was one of the hardest things I’d ever done. It was my big “Yes” to God, and it felt like the supreme cosmic joke of my life.

    This is what I mean about why I make my life small. If I can avoid the outcome of a risk going bad by not taking the risk, I’ll choose avoidance every time.

    You see why Jonah and I are so much alike?

    Even after things go okay in Nineveh, Jonah still isn’t happy. He is a real Puddleglum, a real Eeyore. He just can’t be grateful that God spared a whole city through their repentance after Jonah’s words from God. Instead, he wants to take his life again.

    If I can avoid the outcome of a risk going bad by not taking the risk, I’ll choose avoidance every time.

    Peterson says that Jonah was suffering from a stunted imagination. “His idea of what God is supposed to do and what in fact does differs radically.” A good thing happened, and Jonah still can’t jibe with it. He can’t appreciate the grace of God to a people who don’t deserve it.

    This is usually where most of our anger stems, I think. It comes when something happens that we didn’t expect. It comes from a fractured reality. An old pastor of mine used to call it “unmet expectations,” and I usually thought of it in terms of disappointed hopes, but sometimes it happens when we just don’t know what to do with the story we’re living …

    We believe that getting what we want is the thing that will bring us resolution, but the reason for our want is where God desires to commune with us. And he will bring us to surprising spaces and places and fishes and plants to help us see that, and then he will ask us, right out loud, “What is at the root of your anger?”

    Anger isn’t a virtue, but it is a fact. And admitting we have it is the beginning of a kind of healing only God can do.


    Excerpted from A Curious Faith by Lore Ferguson Wilbert (Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2022). Used by permission Brazos Press, a division of Baker Publishing Group.

    Contributed By Lore Ferguson Wilbert Lore Ferguson Wilbert

    Lore Ferguson Wilbert is the founder of Sayable.net and the author of Handle with Care, winner of a 2021 Christianity Today Book Award.

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