Please, Don't Get Mad at God
As Christians in America, and especially the PCA, are still reeling and grieving with our brothers and sisters at Covenant Presbyterian Church and the Covenant School in Nashville, there is an understandable and appropriate righteous indignation that we have all felt welling up inside of us in these recent weeks. Six precious images bearers of God were gunned down in cold blood in what can only be described as a brazen act of terror. Many are angered by the LGBTQ+ movement and its radicalization of this young woman who identified as a transgender-man. Others have voiced their opposition to President Biden’s appalling decision to declare March 31st Transgender Day of Visibility within mere days of the shooting. And, in numbers that I could not have possibly imagined, the mainstream media’s spinning the narrative in such a way as to make Audrey Hale the victim and Covenant School the villain has shocked and angered us all. While I completely understand and share the same indignation over these matters, I cannot join in with those who teach that believers should also be mad at God himself.
In a recent article published by Christianity Today titled, “Go Ahead. Get Mad at God for the Nashville Shooting,” PCA Pastor Scott Sauls argues that it is appropriate to be angry at God when Christians are visited by calamitous acts of providence like what took place in Nashville (https://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2023/march-web-only/nashville-school-shooting-covenant-church-get-mad-at-god.html). Citing Martha’s words to Jesus upon the death of her brother, Lazarus, “Lord, if you had been here, our brother would not have died,” Sauls asks, “Do we dare speak this way to our maker? Do we dare confront him for abandoning us in our times of greatest need? Do we dare give voice to the feeling that he did not show up, even when we cried out to him in our fear and despair? Do we dare challenge God for not doing things we know he is supposed to do as one who protects, defends, and upholds the weak?” These questions prompt a bigger question that the church must address, especially in dark times such as these—does the Bible actually encourage believers be angry with God?
To be sure, there are countless places in the psalter where we hear desperate cries of grief and dismay, where the Psalmist asks, “O LORD, why do you cast my soul away? Why do you hide your face from me?” (Psalm 88:14). Likewise, one can find multiple places where righteous Job struggles to understand why God has singled him out to suffer though he committed no wrong.
For he crushes me with a tempest and multiplies my wounds without cause; but he will not let me get my breath, but fills me with bitterness…I loathe my life; I will give free utterance to my complaint I will speak the bitterness of my soul. I will say to God, Do not condemn me. Does it seem good to you to oppress, to despise the work of your hands and favor the designs of the wicked? Have you eyes of flesh? Do you see as man sees?” (Job 10:1-4).
The language of anger is there, but is it there for us to emulate? Is the sharp language of Job 10:1-4 descriptive or prescriptive for the believer? Is it right and healthy for believers to get angry with God when they do not receive answers to their many “why” questions? I would argue, no, it is not. We are never free to be angry with God.
As I say this, please do not misunderstand me—grief, sorrow, lament, and even dismay are only appropriate when we encounter tremendous evil like that displayed in Nashville. It would be strange not feel these emotions. The cursed consequences of Adam and Eve’s fall into sin should not leave a dry eye among us. Paul did not tell the Thessalonians “Don’t grieve.” He told them, “But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope” (1 Thess 4:13). So in no way am I telling anyone in Nashville to “move on,” “get over it,” or to "put on a brave face" because God means this for good. While this is certainly true, it does not take the pain away. God has promised that one day he will wipe away every tear, but today is not that day. This is a time for grief, but grief coupled with hope, not anger as Saul advocates.
Sauls points to the negative of example of Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar and their foolish counsel to Job in order to dissuade believers from doing the same to those who have experienced loss in their lives. He quotes a song by Christian artist Charlie Peacock to drive home his point, “Cry with me, don’t try to fix me, friend. That’s how you’ll comfort me…Silence the lips of the people with all of the answers. Gently show them that now is the time, now is the time, now is the time for tears.” In this I agree with Sauls—Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar were lousy counselors and believers must resist the urge to provide quick and easy answers to those who have suffered tremendous loss; we cannot prooftext their pain away. But, in our effort to avoid being like Job’s counselors are we free to behave like Job’s wife and to say to those who are grieving, “Go ahead. Curse God and die”? I dare say, we cannot. Instead, I say with Thomas Watson who in commenting on the third commandment wrote, "A Christian may complain in his affliction, and yet be submissive to God’s will. ‘I cried unto the Lord with my voice, I poured out my complaint before him.’ Psalm 143:1, 2. We may, when under oppression, tell God how it is with us, and desire him to write down our injuries. Shall not the child complain to his father when he is wronged? Holy complaint may agree with patient submission to God’s will; but though we may complain to God, we must not complain of God” (emphasis mine).
Sauls’s Christianity Today article is not the first time a PCA pastor has publicly encouraged believers to get mad at God. Sauls is one car in a larger train of thought. Several months ago, a PCA pastor posted on social media, “Sometimes the best thing you can do is to tell God to f-off…Get angry. Get angry at God, yell at him. He wants all your pain. He can take it. He would rather have you beat on his chest while you curse him, which allows him to hold you close when you collapse, than see you walk away toward death.” Space does not allow me to address every issue I take with the above statement, but underlying these disturbing words and Sauls’s article is the same false dichotomy—either we can be like Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar and offer unhelpful and insensitive advice to those who grieve or we can be sensitive and affirm the grieving in anything and everything that they feel, including their anger toward God. While the therapeutic age in which we live may advocate for the latter alternative, its logical outcome leaves the sufferer in a worse place than when they started; not only have they experienced tragic loss, but now they are thrust into the arms of indignation, distrust, and bitterness.
Sauls seems to suggest that anger toward God is justified if and when the “why” questions of life are left unanswered, when we are not able to square what we know about God’s good character with the evil that God chooses to permit in his mysterious acts of providence.
“The “Why?” question cannot be answered from our earthbound perspectives. We know the world is fallen. We know that sin and sorrow wreak havoc on everyone and everything, all the time. We know that none of us is guaranteed another day, and that the current day could be our last. We know the final enemy called death is coming for us all. We know that sickness, sorrow, pain, and death are part of current reality and will one day be destroyed by our resurrected and returning king. But in spite of what we know—or perhaps because of what we know—the best answer to the “Why?” question is bewilderment, confusion, and anger.” (Emphasis mine)
The best answer? Is anger the best response or simply the most natural response of our fallen, human hearts to the pain of life? While it may be true, as Sauls says earlier, that the “protest of Martha feels right” does that necessarily make it right? Are our feelings the best indicator of what is and is not right? Scripture says “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9) Feelings are anything but an accurate plumb line for what is and is not righteous before
Almighty God. And, even if Martha was angry with Christ (which is debatable) Scripture nowhere commends her attitude toward Jesus. If anything, that interaction is a testimony to the long-suffering and patience of Christ, upon which believers ought never to presume. And what are we to make of Job’s repentance in Job 42:3-6 where he says, “‘Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?’ Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know. ‘Hear, and I will speak; I will question you, and you make it known to me.’ I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you; therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes”? (Emphasis mine) One could just go all the way to the top and ask, “What did Jesus do?” Did Jesus ever get angry at the Father, even as he suffered on the cross for sins he did not commit? The answer is, no. And if Jesus was not angry with his Father, then nor should we be.
If not having answers to life’s “why” questions justifies anger toward God, then when will the believer cease to have just cause to be angry? If the “why” questions cannot be answered from our earthbound perspective, does this mean that believers have a free pass to be angry with God until they enter into glory? If not, then when is the stopping point? This prompts even more questions. Does Sauls mean that all anger toward God is permissible? If not, what types of anger are off limits? Nowhere does he qualify. How angry are we allowed to be? Is it a question of degree? When does “unfiltered honesty” cross the line and become blasphemous, a violation of the third commandment? Is it ever okay to tell God to “f-off?” If not, then what in this article suggests that it is not okay?
My aim in responding to this article is to simply to allow those who are grieving to grieve in peace. They should be allowed the space and time to lament, to weep, to cry out to God in prayer, and to long for the day of resurrection when they will see their loved ones again without people providing quick-fixes. But, they should also be free from those who mistakenly suggest (while these saints are emotionally vulnerable) that it is good for them to be angry with God. Saints of Nashville, I grieve with you. I will continue to pray for you. And beyond that, all I can do is encourage you to run to him who loves you, to him who hears your cries, sees your pain, knows what you suffer, and who will never let you go. Go ahead and grieve, but grieve with hope.
Stephen Spinnenweber is the Senior Pastor of Westminster Presbyterian Church in Jacksonville, Florida, a congregation of the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA). He is a graduate of Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary and a General Council Member of the Gospel Reformation Network.
 For the sake of context here is the full quotation, “Sometimes the best thing you can do is to tell God to f-off. Because pretending that Rom 8:28 is true (God works for the good of all who love him) when all evidence suggests that it’s not true, will take you further from the heart of God. Because sinking into despair when confronted with sin, death, and evil will isolate you from God and everyone else. Because numbing yourself with Netflix, alcohol, exercise, work, sex, religion…will shrivel your heart. Get angry. Get angry at God, yell at him. He wants all your pain. He can take it. He would rather have you beat on his chest while you curse him, which allows him to hold you close when you collapse, than see you walk away toward death.”