Anger. We have all experienced it. For some it is a burning, churning, table-pounding rage. For others, it is more of a low-grade infection that burrows deep into the heart. It simmers on the back burner of the mind giving off an unpleasant aroma, occasionally boiling over and making an unsightly mess.
For a variety of reasons, anger at the Almighty is common among parents dealing with child loss. Some have buried children due to the wickedness of others. Some children, overwhelmed with pain, have ended their own life. Some endured years of sickness and suffering. Some left us quickly with no warning. Some made terrible, irreversible mistakes and got into situations they could not get out of.
And now they are gone.
No matter how your child died, there will likely come a time when you just want it to make sense. Some are okay with waiting until eternity to see the big picture. But many want to know – now – what God had in mind by allowing this. Understandably, they are distraught. They are in pain, they are angry, and they are demanding to know…
Tragically, some decide that any answer God might come up with would simply not be good enough. In their bleeding, battered heart they shake their fist at the sky and declare God’s plan unacceptable. Many are mad at someone they do not even believe exists. Or, if He does exist, He is not the kind of god they want to believe in. They feel they could do a better job of things. I’ll decide which god is right for me, thank you. I don’t need a god who lets bad things happen to me. I’ll be my own god, if you please. They rage at Him because they do not know Him. There is neither logic nor peace in grief that is encumbered with unbelief.
One does not need to look very far before encountering unspeakable evil in this world, and anger is the right and natural response to it. As I write this, perversions of every sort are being perpetrated, recorded, and posted on the very internet I use to share the Good News of Jesus Christ. Young girls are being sold into slavery for the twisted pleasures of despicable men. Thievery is commonplace. Deception proliferates. Darkness seems to rule.
In our limited capacity to understand the ways of God, we think, How can God possibly redeem the brutal, vicious crimes committed daily against honest men, helpless children and defenseless women? These horrors cannot be undone. There is no conceivable good that can be expected to make up for it.
And then, we begin to accuse Him:
“Why, God did you take my child?! How could you let this happen?”
“What did I do to deserve this terrible loss?”
“Where were you, God?”
“I don’t think you know what you are doing, God.”
“There is no God. And if there is I am mad as _____ at Him.”
“It’s not fair!”
This kind of anger can be annihilating. It will wreck your health, your relationships and what is left of your self. It can fester and grow and spill out all over your life. In fact, it can crush you. Anger piled on top of grief is much too heavy a burden to bear. Anger makes grief more complicated.
Now, anger is certainly a natural and understandable response to evil and the pain of bereavement can make us especially vulnerable. But I am convinced that staying too long in a place of excessive or misdirected anger is counter-productive and makes the pain of child loss worse by several orders of magnitude for the grieving parent and for those around them.
Unchecked anger hands the victory over to evil.
There is nothing wrong with being angry about the evil going on around us. God is angry about it, too. But we need to be careful about how and where we direct this anger. Anger can be harnessed and transformed into a productive force for good. I have seen parents who have taken the pain of child loss and used it as an impetus for change in the world. Rather than stewing in a boiling pot of bitterness, they are reaching out, even while in the thick of grieving, to help others, to raise awareness, to educate and to comfort. They start campaigns and found organizations. They establish scholarships, build parks and teach kids to swim. Parents like this amaze me and I salute them. The rest of us are enriched by their efforts. Their loss becomes gain for the many lives they touch. Their departed child impacts the world in a beautiful and productive way – maybe even more than if they had not died.
So, what we do with this anger is key. We need to take care not to indulge in anger to the point where it festers into a simmering spirit of bitterness that permeates the soul and, in turn, infects our relationships. When we demand to exercise our “right” to be angry, we feed the anger by continuing to focus on the circumstances surrounding our loss. This makes the anger grow and spread into every area of our life. We fiercely grip our anger and, with hot, furious tears, turn our face away from God. Anger takes over. The heart turns to stone. Evil wins.
Are you angry at God because you are suffering, or your child has suffered, and God does not seem to care? Are you angry because you have been robbed of your only child and God did not intervene? Are you angry because there is no justice: the murderer goes free, the drug pusher goes unpunished, life goes on and your child is still dead? Are you angry because God does not put a stop to the whole appalling mess?
God is in control and, in His perfect timing, when the last sinner is added to His church, He will make everything right. The worst ugliness that man can dish out to man will be rectified. There will be justice. The apparent delay in no way negates the fact that God is love. He loves you, He loves your child. He loves justice and mercy because He IS Justice and Mercy. No one gets away with anything and it is sobering to consider the torment that awaits the perpetrators of these heinous acts. Unless they turn to God for forgiveness through the blood of Jesus, God’s own crucified and risen son, they will pay. Forever.
God’s justice is thorough and it is eternal. (Scroll down below to Psalm 94)
I do not mean that God will merely make it all better. No, it will be much, much more expansive than that. The fulfillment of His ultimate plan will be so far beyond the word “right” – well, there are no words in any language to communicate it.
Anger is destructive. It is a nasty weapon in the arsenal of the Destroyer. How’s it working for you? Does it not make you unbelievably tired? Wouldn’t you like to lay it down and walk away? Wouldn’t you like to replace it with something more productive, something more God-honoring? Wouldn’t you like to rest?
There is relief to be had from the heaviness of anger. Read His Word – especially the promises – over and over again. Fill your mind with Truth. Take your anger, your disappointment, your mistrust, your sense of betrayal, to your Father in Heaven. Take all of it straight to Him. Tell Him the whole mess. Ask Him to take it from you. Ask Him to lift it from your weary shoulders so you can grieve with joy and peace rather than ugly bitterness. Then give it up and walk away.
If you do not know Him, ask Him to reveal Himself to you. He is real, He is there, and He is able to meet you and save you right where you are. He has the power to deliver you from anger.
Joni Eareckson Tada on Being Angry at God – (Excerpts) Below are some thoughts written by a woman who has been all the way to despair and back but, nevertheless, continues to shine with the Joy of the Lord, bringing honor to the Master and encouragement to the hurting. May we all benefit by Joni’s beautiful example.
“… when doubts started to choke out my confidence in God, I quickly turned it around and reaffirmed my belief in His sovereignty… I have to start talking to myself… I have to remember His power and wisdom and goodness toward me through Christ. And I have to do it quickly.”
“…at the first hint of fear or doubt or anger I rehearsed in my mind everything I had ever learned about His sovereignty: God is good, He always has my best interests at heart; He is kind and merciful and He doesn’t take His hands off the wheel of my life for a nanosecond. He’s in control and He’s got reasons for allowing this.”
“Finally, when tempted to be angry at God, you don’t need to settle for being a cold stoic or hot-headed blasphemer. God has opened the door for you to lament, to bring to Him your doubts and questions, wisely, honestly, and in humility. He bends His ear to His suffering people – and He’s waiting to hear from you today.”
O Lord God, to whom vengeance belongeth;
O God, to whom vengeance belongeth, shew thyself.
Lift up thyself, thou judge of the earth: render a reward to the proud.
LORD, how long shall the wicked, how long shall the wicked triumph?
How long shall they utter and speak hard things?
and all the workers of iniquity boast themselves?
They break in pieces thy people, O LORD, and afflict thine heritage.
They slay the widow and the stranger, and murder the fatherless.
Yet they say, The LORD shall not see, neither shall the God of Jacob regard it.
Understand, ye brutish among the people: and ye fools, when will ye be wise?
He that planted the ear, shall he not hear? he that formed the eye, shall he not see?
He that chastiseth the heathen, shall not he correct?
he that teacheth man knowledge, shall not he know?
The LORD knoweth the thoughts of man, that they are vanity.
Blessed is the man whom thou chastenest, O LORD, and teachest him out of thy law;
That thou mayest give him rest from the days of adversity,
until the pit be digged for the wicked.
For the LORD will not cast off his people, neither will he forsake his inheritance.
But judgment shall return unto righteousness: and all the upright in heart shall follow it.
Who will rise up for me against the evildoers?
or who will stand up for me against the workers of iniquity?
Unless the LORD had been my help, my soul had almost dwelt in silence.
When I said, My foot slippeth; thy mercy, O LORD, held me up.
In the multitude of my thoughts within me thy comforts delight my soul.
Shall the throne of iniquity have fellowship with thee, which frameth mischief by a law?
They gather themselves together against the soul of the righteous,
and condemn the innocent blood.
But the LORD is my defence; and my God is the rock of my refuge.
And he shall bring upon them their own iniquity,
and shall cut them off in their own wickedness;
yea, the LORD our God shall cut them off.