Recently I put out a poll on Facebook asking one question, “Does God get angry at people who are angry at him?” People could answer, yes, no, maybe or I don’t know. Forty-seven persons responded to the poll: four answered “I don’t know;” one chose “maybe”; and forty-two answered no. So the vast majority of those who answered felt God does not get angry with people just because they get angry at him. Yet, in my experience, as both a chaplain and therapist, when we go through difficult times and God does not respond according to our requests, we tend to get angry with God and think he is angry at us.
The question of God’s anger is a troublesome one. In the Christian scriptures, the Old Testament God tends to be an angry, vengeful God. If the chosen people acted contrary to his instructions, God’s anger meted out devastating consequences. However, in the New Testament God’s wrath seems more related to the final judgment when the wicked are to be punished for refusing his great gift of salvation.
This brings us to the question of whether God gets angry with people for some reason and punishes them with sickness, suffering, grief and loss. Interestingly enough, one of the best examples I have found to address this question is in the Old Testament book of Jonah. After Jonah preaches to Nineveh and the people repent, God decides not to destroy them. But Jonah becomes angry that his threats to Nineveh are not going to come through and he says as much to God. In fact, he so angry he says to God, “kill me right now; I’d rather be dead than alive.” God’s question in reply to Jonah is the heart of our article today, “Is it right for you to be angry about this?” Then Jonah gets a powerful lesson that I think is still helpful for us today.
In response to God’s question, Jonah goes off makes a shelter for himself and sits sulking under it while still hoping that God would destroy the city. Soon the leaves of the shelter wither in the heat, but God arranges for a vine to grow up overnight and it provides him with excellent shade such that Jonah is comfortable and grateful for God’s act of mercy toward him. However, God also sent a worm that eats away the stem of the plant and just as quickly as it springs up it dies! This leaves Jonah to feel the full heat of the midday sun, not only that, God sends a scorching wind to blow on Jonah and his suffering is so great Jonah cries out for death. He feels death must be better than such suffering. Finally, God comes back to him and asks again, “Is it right for you to be angry because the plant died?” Jonah replies defiantly, “Yes, it is right for me to be angry enough to die.” Then God says to Jonah, “You feel sorry for yourself when your shelter is destroyed, though you did no work to put it there, and it is, at best, short-lived. And why shouldn’t I feel sorry for a great city like Nineveh with its 120,000 people in utter spiritual darkness and all its cattle?”
In essence God is challenging Jonah’s right to angry; first at God’s decision not to destroy the city, then at God’s decision to remove the shelter he provided to Jonah. There are several powerful thoughts for our contemplation here: (1) Getting angry at God challenges the nature of God as loving and merciful based on my perception of his action. Anger is a very personal response to what we perceive is a very personal action against us. Our thoughts often center on the fact that “I am the person who is hurting, God has not been there for me, maybe he has helped other people, not me.” (2) Getting angry at God is an act of self-pity that our cherished desires appear to be lost. We feel like we have done our best to follow God while he has left us to suffer without help. (3) Getting angry at God results in self injurious thoughts and actions. Anger blurs our ability to reflect meaningfully and grow spiritually. We may become suicidal as we think, “This is too much!, Death is better than this”. We may even challenge God as Jonah did; “Why don’t you just kill me and get over with?” (4) Anyone can fall prey to anger at God when things don’t go according to plans and expectations. Don’t forget Jonah is a prophet and called by God to perform his work, yet Jonah becomes angry when things go wrong. (5) When we find ourselves angry at God, one effective means of addressing that anger is to ask ourselves, “What right do I have to get angry at God for this?” My next post will follow will further explore this question.