I was recently listening to a video featuring the late R.C. Sproul. A listener had written in regarding his grief over his unsaved adult son who had recently died. The listener wanted to know how to deal with his anger towards God.
Sproul responded, “Repent”. He said, “Repent in dust and ashes. There has never been anything that has happened to you in your whole life including this great tragedy that could ever justify being angry with God. Instead, there are ten million reasons why God should be angry with you. God does not owe us a life without pain and tragedy.”
Sproul was right. None of us who believe in Christ has been treated as our sins deserve. All the grief, hardship and crushing agony we experience in this life is still less than our sins have merited. God is righteous in condemning us. But instead of condemnation, he sent his only Son to be our sin substitute. It is not anger with God that should dominate us. We should, instead, be overwhelmed with holy fear and with thankfulness.
Yet all of this does not yet answer the question of anger. Some have suggested that some of the plaintiff Psalms open the door for our anger with God. Psalm 13 begins with, “How long, O LORD?” Verse 3 then adds, “Consider and answer me, O LORD my God”. The issue in that Davidic Psalm is that the enemy is boasting that he has prevailed over David. God has not been answering. Other Psalms are very similar. Psalm 22 was quoted by Jesus as he hung on the cross. “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
Are these examples of anger? Or are they examples of a plaintiff heart, pleading that God might remember him in the hour of suffering? But what should we do, when in our pleading with God to answer us in our distress, that the heavens remain silent? What if our suffering continues? What if our enemy really does triumph over us, and God does not intervene? Should we then be justified in an emotional response of anger?
Psalm 42:9 sounds very much like Psalm 13:1. Psalm 42:9 says, “I say to God, my rock: ‘Why have you forgotten me? Why do I go mourning because of the oppression of the enemy?’” If that were not enough, verse 10 tells us how difficult matters had become for one of the sons of Korah. “As with a deadly wound in my bones, my adversaries taunt me, while they say to me all day long, ‘Where is your God?’” This is a very difficult matter. Not only is God not answering, but the enemies see this as a sign that their cruelty is justified. It would seem, at such a time, anger is justified. Or is it.
Psalm 42 provides an excellent response to those confusing experiences of blinding pain when God seems absent. The Psalmist is not seen as either raising his fist to heaven or brooding in a deep, simmering resentment towards God. These reactions would be possible if we did not have faith. But Psalm 42:11 ends with a model response. The Psalmist begins to speak, not to God, but now to himself. “Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God.”
The answer to unremitting pain and a silent God is to reflect in hope on the future promises of God. We may not know why God has permitted the present suffering to endure for so long. But we know that this suffering cannot continue to endure. God has promised that his mercy and truth will prevail. He has also promised to rescue his servants in his timing.
How do we respond when overwhelmed by suffering? It is not wrong to bring our complaint to God. It is not wrong to be confused. But it is wrong to be angry with God. Instead, we must put our hope in His unfailing promises.
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