God-Inspired Irascibility

Easily provoked to anger.

To say that I struggle with anger would be to putting it mildly. I’ve struggled with anger my whole life, but I tend to reserve my worst fits of rage for those people who love me the most. While that may not make sense at first blush, it’s actually a quite logical manipulation of human emotion. You see, those closest to you are also those most likely to forgive you after an emotional outburst – at least in theory.

We’ve all experienced anger. We know what that feels like. It’s a fairly basic, normal, commonplace, and even healthy emotion.

And yet, many of us still have reservations about admitting that anger is part of who or what we are.

It comes as no surprise, then, that people have mixed emotions (so to speak) about anger as it applies to God.

One of my favorite questions to ask a room full of people (which should tell you a thing or two about me) is, “Is it okay to be angry at God?”

Responses to that question are far from unanimous. I did, one time, have an entire room full of people shout a resounding ‘NO!’ at me in response to that question. Their righteous indignation was overwhelming. In their minds, of course it wasn’t alright to be mad at God. Most rooms spit out a smattering of responses from all along the spectrum.

I get it. It’s not an easy question.

But the reality is, whether or not its okay to be angry at God, plenty of people are. Annoyance, displeasure, hostility, belligerence – God is familiar with being on the receiving end of all of those since time immemorial. That’s the real basis of agnosticism and atheism. Those people are angry at God.

But what about the rest of us?

Well, the Bible doesn’t shy away from expressing the full range of human emotion. There are plentiful examples throughout the Bible of people being angry with God, perhaps none more ubiquitous than the psalms.

The psalms are writings, typically sacred songs or hymns, that can be found in the first half of the Bible, know as the Old Testament or Hebrew scriptures. Another way of looking at songs is to see them as poems. Lyrics expressed in verse form are typically an external replication of the emotional chaos which dwells within the hearts and minds of their creator.

One classification of psalms, psalms of lament, deal with anger. These verses of text encompass the sorrow and anguish of a people who want nothing more than God’s intervention. Of the 150 psalms contained in our biblical text, somewhere between 40 and 70 percent of them (depending on source) are psalms of lament. That’s a lot of text dedicated to crying out to God.

The vast majority of all psalms are attributed to a guy named David. This is the same David who was an unknown shepherd boy until, with a slingshot and a stone, he was credited with defeating the giant, Goliath. In one fell swoop David when from being an average, working class nobody to being the person who single-handedly defeated the Philistines. This is the same David who God appointed to be the first king of Israel. This is the same David who came to be known as a “man after God’s own heart.”

And yet, this is also the David who spied on Bathsheba while she bathed. Who took Bathsheba into his bed while her husband was out fighting for the nation. Who went on to have this husband, Uriah, placed on the front lines to face certain death. The same David who got drunk and danced naked in the streets. There’s good and bad in us all, and God desires that we express that in our prayers.

That’s really what the psalms are. These songs and hymns in the Bible were written to be sung or read as a part of communal worship. And what is worship if not an opportunity for us to lift our voices up to God?

There’s a practice in the church that has been practiced during Lent (a period of 40 days and nights leading up to Easter) or simply as a way of learning how to pray which says that we should pray through the psalms. These psalms teach us how to have have and maintain a conversation with God. They let us know that it’s okay to express the entirety of human emotion when talking to God.

Prayer is more than asking for what we want or thanking God for that which we already have. God wants our first, our last, and everything in between.

So when I’ve found myself questioning God – when I’m not sure what’s next – when I have doubts, fears, insecurities – when I find it difficult to trust the process – I have used those opportunities to tun to the psalms. I don’t always know what to say to God. I don’t always know how to express my thoughts, my wants, my desires, my demons, so I turn to the scriptures.

Initially I was praying this psalm alone. At some point I started praying it with my wife. The psalm itself transformed for me. I went on to share it with a church at a weekday prayer service. Not long thereafter, I shared it with the board of that church.

This is that psalm. It is a psalm of lament, of sorrow, of challenge, of abandonment, of enough, of hope. It’s all that and more. Ultimately, I came to the place where the psalm itself is a story of God’s redemptive power. It’s a story of hopelessness and restoration. It’s a story of doubt and faith, lost and found, death and life.

This is from Eugene Peterson’s biblical paraphrase, The Message: Psalm 13

1-2 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.

3-4 Take a good look at me, God, my God;
    I want to look life in the eye,
So no enemy can get the best of me
    or laugh when I fall on my face.

5-6 I’ve thrown myself headlong into your arms—
    I’m celebrating your rescue.
I’m singing at the top of my lungs,
    I’m so full of answered prayers.

This is what it’s like to be lost, lonely, and broken only to be rescued by walking directly into the outstretched arms of  a God who loves us despite ourselves. What other God has so willingly walked into the middle of our junk and loved us just the way we are?

So next time you’re angry at God, shout, scream, cuss, and throw whatever hissy fit you deem necessary, but don’t stop there. Take your anger to God. Be open. Be honest. Be bold. Be direct. And if you can’t come up with the words to express your anger, that’s not a problem. Go to the source.

If you own a tree book version of the Bible and not an e-book, finding the psalms is usually pretty easy. Just flop it open to the middle and you should more or less be there. I guarantee you’ll find something there which does a good job representing the emotions you’re experiencing in the moment.

Read it. Pray it. Believe it.

Our lived experience, while it has changed mightily over the years, is still very much the same. We have a lot to learn from those who’ve gone before us. This is just one way that we can figure out how to use our anger as an opportunity to grow with God rather than run away from God.

So be angry. It’s okay. And take that anger to God with the same enthusiasm you might if you were joyously celebrating answered prayers.

– Alex Walker

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