This article addresses the issue of anger at God.. The reasons and targets of our anger during grief are as unique as the individual people and circumstances who find themselves on their own grief journey. We can be angry at ourselves…at those who might be perceived as causing the death…or at someone who said or did something hurtful shortly after the death. Whatever the circumstances, it is important to recognize our anger and to come to terms with it…even if it means keeping a big pillow around to use as a punching bag. The suggestions in the following article may also be helpful.
“My God, My God, Why …?”
By Reverend Joseph Phillips, Ph. D. Syracuse, New York
Affectionately known as “Father Joe,” Reverend Joseph Phillips was born in Cincinnati, Ohio, and is the oldest of four children. He completed his doctorate in Child and Family Studies at Syracuse University in New York State. He is a priest of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Syracuse, and he works as the Director of the Department of Family Life Education of the at the Diocese. He also teaches, supervises and counsels at the Onondaga Pastoral Counseling Center in New York State, and he is a member of the Board of Directors of Hope for Bereaved, Inc.
The story is told of a woman who was deeply grateful for her life as a wife, mother and volunteer in several community organizations. She had grown up in rough circumstances, but now, finally, her life was different. One day she woke up feeling very sick. Her condition worsened. She was sent by her doctor to the hospital for tests and was told her illness was terminal.
She felt a fire of anger ignite inside her, and, in her fury, she felt impelled to tell God off. So, in hospital gown and robe, she struggled through the corridors on her way to the chapel. It was to be a face-to-face confrontation. She felt so weak that she had to support herself by bracing against the wall as she moved along.
When she entered the chapel, it was dark. No one else was there. On the way up the center aisle, she delivered the speech she had prepared on her endless journey from her room to the chapel.
“Oh God, you are a fraud. A phony. You’ve been passing yourself off as love for all these thousands of years. But every time anyone finds a little happiness, you pull the rug from under her feet. Well, I just want you to know that I have had it. I see through you.”
Near the front of the chapel, she fell. She put her tired head down over her crossed arms and rested. She felt a strange peace come over her. She returned to her room and slipped off into a deep sleep.
The woman’s illness took an unexpected turn for the better. In time, she found herself healthy once again. (Adapted from Happiness is an Inside Job, by John Powell.)
This story reminds us of the truth that anger often accompanies pain. The woman was faced with the loss of family, friends and life itself. Her pain ran very deep. Naturally, so did her anger. Elizabeth Kubler-Ross was one of the first to articulate this truth. She described five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. Anger is a normal part of grief.
Unlike the woman in the story, some of us find ourselves at times reluctant to acknowledge or express our anger. When we are angry with God, this is all the more the case. It helps me to recall that love and hate are not opposites. Love and hate are on the same side of the fence. On the other side is apathy. The opposite of love is cold indifference. A little girl was very angry with her father for his not allowing her to go out after dinner and play with her friends. She wrote him a letter that he found on the kitchen table. “Dear Dad, I hate you. Love, Sally.”
As we imagined the woman struggling through the corridors on her way to the chapel to express her rage, we may have felt anxious about her approaching confrontation with God. We may have sensed with dread that her relationship with God was about to end. In fact, the peace that came over her and the deep sleep she enjoyed indicated a “working out” took place a resolving happened, a reconciliation occurred. I daresay an ending would have come if the woman had decided to keep her anger to herself.
Pierre Wolff in his book entitled May I Hate God? states:
“Perhaps there is a hatred present as long as people are mute, but as soon as they decide to express what is in their hearts to the other, something is already changing and may he even already changed. This expression is a desire for reconciliation. If I can tell you, my friend, that I hate you, and if you can accept my words and feelings, then love is present, working and conquering. You are still alive and present in my life, even though in sorrow…” It is the not-speaking-our-hatred that deadens a relationship
I offer these suggestions for dealing with anger toward God:
- Follow the example of the woman of the story and have it out with God as you would with a friend.
- Write a letter to God.
- Write a letter from God to you, putting into words what God would want to say to you at this time.
- Pray one of the angry Psalms.
- Listen to music while repeating a verse from Scripture.
- Take a long walk with God.
- Ask a friend to listen to how angry you feel
Join me in these verses of Psalm 22: “My God, my God, why have you deserted me?… I call all day, my God, but you never answer. All night long I call and cannot rest … Do not stand aside; trouble is near. I have no one to help me … Do not stand aside, O God. O my strength, come quickly to my help …”
Reprinted from Bereavement Magazine March/April 1996 Bereavement Publishing, Inc.;
5125 N. Union Blvd Suite #4; Colorado Springs, CO 80918