I often hear this from patients in the hospitals. They are expressing disappointment, the feeling that God has let them down. It may be a woman who has prayed to God for healing and the illness has only gotten worse. It may be a man who has been a faithful churchgoer and yet he is made to suffer illness and pain, while people who seem to be less faithful enjoy health and comfort. Or it may be that the person who is sick and suffering is a child or a mother or father of young children. That such people suffer life-threatening illness or even death itself just seems unfair. In situations like these, the sorrow that arises from pain, illness and death can turn to disappointment with God, and disappointment can turn to anger.
Being angry with God is not necessarily a bad thing. It can simply be a matter of being honest about one’s feelings. Anger is a feeling, an emotion that arises out of sorrow. When something evil, like sickness or the death of a loved one, is present in our lives, we automatically feel sad. As a result of feeling sad, we often feel like “lashing out” at what we perceive to be the cause of our sadness. This feeling is anger.
When someone says, “I am angry with God,” at least part of what that person is expressing is the feeling of anger. That feeling comes from the perception that God is in some way the cause of the evil experienced and the sorrow felt. We can perceive God to be the cause of the evil we experience because, we think, God could have prevented it and did not. God could have prevented my illness, but did not. God could have healed my child, but did not. God has disappointed me. Therefore, I am angry.
Again, this anger is not necessarily bad. Since feelings, in themselves, are neither good nor bad. They arise naturally and it us up to us to choose how to respond to them. So we shouldn’t blame someone for feeling angry with God. It is okay to feel that way. It is understandable to feel that way. Moreover, when someone is suffering greatly and feeling intensely, that person may need to feel those feelings for a long time. We cannot make that person deal with his or her feelings before he or she is ready. Instead, we should affirm and console that person, letting him know that it is okay to feel the way he feels.
At some point, however, we need to deal with our feelings. That is, we need to freely decide how to respond to our feelings. We need to bring the light of reason to bear upon our feelings and consider whether God is really the cause of the evils in our lives or not, whether God is rightly to be blamed for our sorrow and grief or not.
It can seem like God causes the evils of illness and death because God is the one in control. God has the power to prevent illness and death, but frequently does not. When the illness or death is my own or that of someone I love, God’s failure to prevent it can seem neglectful if not downright malicious. But is preventing evil and pain always the best thing to do? Is it sometimes better to allow someone to suffer for the sake of a greater good?
Consider two examples: First, a professor who gives a student a bad grade on his research paper. Second, a father who lets go of his daughter’s bicycle and so allows her to fall and scrape her knee. The bad grade and the scraped knee seem like bad things to the student and the child. In both cases, suffering has resulted that could have been prevented. But suppose that the bad grade was deserved and the girl’s fall was a necessary part of learning to ride a bike. If that is so, the professor and the father both did the right thing by not preventing suffering. In both cases, the people who were in control allowed others to suffer, not out of malice or for their own gain, but for the good of those under their care.
God is in control of the whole world and is able to prevent illness, suffering, and death. But that is not always the best thing for God to do. This can be difficult to grasp and it is impossible to understand all God’s reasons for what He does or does not do. What we do know is that God acts out of infinite knowledge, wisdom, and love. God sees everything, including the events of our lives, from an eternal perspective that we can hardly glimpse. We are not in a position to evaluate God. We are invited to trust, to have the faith of St. Paul, who assures us that "all things work for the good for those who love God.” (Rom 8:28)
It is okay to feel angry with God. It is okay to take your time in dealing with that feeling. But when you do deal with it, your faith tells you that God is not the cause of the evil you experience or the pain you suffer. God is your Father. God is Wisdom and Love. God is worthy of your trust.