It takes great faith to be angry with God

At an early age, my mother was taken from me and my family due to an illness. It was a terrible blow for all of us to take. My biggest struggle then and now is my anger. I acknowledge the existence of a higher power but find it hard to believe in God. I'm angry with him for taking my mother from me. It seems as though God is made out to be our savior, our forgiver and our friend. Why would he tear my family life asunder by taking her from us? I've moved away from the Lord as a result, angry that he robbed such a powerful figure from my life. How can I cope with/heal my anger with him?

-- J.K., Flagstaff, Ariz.

I'm sorry your mother is dead. I'm sorry grief is so damn hard. And it is. For those who do it honestly. By the way, grief is even harder for those who do it dishonestly.

And now you find that your mother's death did not merely cost you your mother, though that would be hard enough. But it also has alienated and estranged you.

To be alienated means your sense of how and why you belong in and to this world has shifted, like the rumbled grinding of gears in a bad transmission. And you are estranged in your spirituality with the One whose intimate name for you once was God.

It's right there in your question. You acknowledge the existence of a higher power but find it hard to believe in God.

It's like saying you acknowledge the existence of your father, whose name is Bob, but now you're calling him Bob instead of Papa. Or maybe even you're calling him "hey you." Because, while you know he's standing there, you're mad at him. And you don't trust him. So you choose monikers that provide an editorial distance.

You'll laugh. My girlfriend noted aloud to me the other day that about the only time I use her name formally -- as opposed to myriad endearments -- is when I'm hurt, angry with her or working through something in our relationship.

I hadn't noticed that. But she is right.

I want to say something to you that will guarantee me lots of unhappy mail from religious people: From any honestly human point of view, God runs a sometimes crappy, capricious universe.

One of the most honest theological observations ever appeared suddenly on T-shirts a few decades ago. But, since this is a family newspaper, I'll just say "stuff happens."

Stuff does happen, dear man. Anybody who says differently is trying to sell you something.

The spiritual swamp you're trudging has a name: theodicy. Theodicy is that lesser-known branch of the theological task wherein pilgrims are forced to find meaning or arrange meaning out of suffering and evil vis-a-vis a God who purports to be both good and God.

The Hebrew story of Abraham and his long-awaited son, Isaac, is a struggle with theodicy.

God puts Abraham to a test of faith. Go, sacrifice your son, Isaac. And Abraham obeys. He ties his son to the stone altar. Lifts the knife ... and God interrupts. Abraham has passed the test.

But, in my fantasy postscript, father and son go home. And the son says, "good night," and turns his back on his father, whom he'll never trust again.

And Abraham says his prayers and says: "A test? Excuse me? You put me through that to test me?"

It would be like faking your own suicide to "test" whether someone really loved you. Then you'd come back and say, "I'm actually not dead, and now I know you love me." But, the test you administered to your loved one would probably forever alter your relationship with the loved one. And not for the better.

J.K., it takes great faith to be angry with God. In the same way it takes great faith in your mate to be rightfully angry in your marriage. In the same way that Jesus quotes the Psalms from the cross: "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"

Anger is a holy, if difficult intimacy. Your estrangement is now a part of your journey with God.

Most people, by the time they die, have a personal list in their pocket, which, upon arriving in heaven, they will go directly to the Complaints Department and submit. What the hell was this about? What did this mean? Why was this necessary?

Or, perhaps death itself is a healing and transformative process that renders these questions irrelevant.

But in the meantime, if we're honest and human, we have to ask.

Originally published in View News, April 27, 2010.