Are we really allowed to be angry with God about suffering?
This question was put to me by a friend who is grieving with me. My beautiful twin sister has terminal cancer. God has graciously extended her life from the really terrible prognosis of one month, but he is yet to answer our prayers for her healing.
Looking at God’s response to Job in the Bible helps us to answer this question about being angry with God.
Job experiences unimaginable suffering: everything has been taken away from him, and on top of that, his friends have railed at him repeatedly about how he must be to blame at some level. Talk about adding insult to injury!
Then God shows up in Job 38:1. In a storm, which is kind of Bible-speak for ‘God is really here’.
But before God says anything, there are two ways in which He shows what He thinks about this question of us being angry with Him.
The first is that God delays His arrival. God shows up after everyone has had their say, including Job. And Job has some pretty unflattering things to say about God. He claims that God has wronged him (19:6), and has denied him justice (27:1). You can hear his sarcasm and accusation when asks God whether it pleases Him to oppress him (10:3). God could have showed up as soon as Job got to saying these things, cutting him off and invalidating his feelings. But He doesn’t. God allows Job his anger, even when that anger is directed at Him.
The second way in which God shows his response to anger directed at Him is that He arrives. Job says all the way back in 13:16 that no wicked person can stand before God, and his friends have been accusing him of being such a person. So when God turns up and speaks to Job, it sends a message: Job is not an evildoer, even though he has had some pretty strong things to say to and about God. Job has thrown everything at God, and still God does not turn His face from him. He hears Job’s words and far from condemning him for them, His presence is an affirmation of Job.
God’s speech will follow, but this much is already clear: He has created space for Job’s feelings, and Job’s anger with Him has not damaged his relationship with God. In fact, later on God says that Job has spoken accurately about him (42:8).
As I lie next to my twin on her sickbed each day, it seems to me that God is not doing a very good job of ruling His world at the moment. Whenever I say this, I am inevitably met with disapproval, or quick reminders that God is somehow in control even if we don’t understand His plan. But when we rush to answers like these, we are not being like God. God did not steamroll Job’s feelings, neither is He eager to circumvent ours. He was not offended by Job’s accusations, and He’s big enough for mine too.
Even when God starts to speak, it is engagement with Job that He seeks. “Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth?” He asks. “Tell me, if you know so much.” I don’t think these words are angry or indignant or sarcastic or mocking. They’re gentler than that, like a mother helping a child make a necessary connection. Because if God has come to overwhelm Job, he only overwhelms him with stuff he already knows. God might be the one who tips over the water jars of heaven (38:37), but Job told us back in 28:25 that God is the one who decides how hard the winds should blow and how much rain should fall. There’s no new information for Job here, no lightbulb moments! He already knows all these things. God isn’t slapping him down so much as asking him to recall and reflect on what he already knows.
God’s presence is vital here. It so affirms Job that he no longer needs to protest his innocence, and so he’s given the context in which to grow. People say that suffering is how God grows us, but at least in Job, they’re wrong. It’s not Job’s suffering that causes him to grow. We’ve had 36 chapters of Job suffering and people talking about it, but it’s God turning up that is transformative. God talks about the things Job’s been saying all along, but the presence of God makes a difference this time, and sees the book come to its conclusion.
God’s speeches do say things about his involvement in the world, from the vast to the intricate. They showcase the complexity of the world and claim God has an order, even if we cannot understand it, and that He limits evil. But still, we’re left with few answers. Instead, we’re left with God and who He is.
A God who is gracious, who speaks to Job.
A God who is powerful, who controls even the weather.
A God who is kind, who provides even for the ravens.
A God who is sovereign, so even the stupid ostrich can be part of his picture.
A God who is good, who restrains evil and calls it to heel.
Relationships are rarely about having the right answers. They’re about knowing the one to whom you appeal. And in this case, we can have every confidence to come to God with all that we feel, and know that He will neither seek to quell us nor silence us, but will listen and treat us gently in our pain.
Tamie comes from Adelaide and lives in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania with her husband and two sons. In partnership with CMS Australia, they work with the Tanzanian Fellowship of Evangelical Students (TAFES). She and her husband blog here