Angry at God? Get in line (with atheists)

A study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology is said to show that virtually everyone feels anger towards God at various points in their lives, especially after the loss through death of a loved one, or a diagnosis with a serious illness. The interesting thing is that this includes self-professed unbelievers in God. In fact, according to this study, they get angrier at God than do believers. Psychologist Julie Exline (as quoted in this article) elaborated thusly:

“People who are more religious don’t get as angry. They may be more likely to think God caused the troubling event, but they’re also more likely to put good intentions on the event, saying things like, ‘God is trying to strengthen me.'”

The anger focused on God usually doesn’t last very long, she says.

“For a lot of people, they’ll have a flash of anger at God, and then their coping resources kick in, but if the anger is something they can’t resolve, if they’re having trouble coping or minimizing the anger and can’t make sense out of what’s going on, they may need to seek additional help.”

Perhaps some counseling sessions or mediation between oneself and God would be helpful. Some would say it’s impossible to get God to attend such sessions — but others would contend that in fact God is everywhere and in everything and therefore that you can meet with Him anytime. How confusing. More reason for annoyance!

But then, this study is not actually so surprising at all. There are obviously those things which happen in life, losses and tragedies and terrible hardships, for which no one whom one can reach out and touch (or choke) can be blamed. Foremost among these is death — the loss of the people we love — and those things which inspire fear of our own or someone else’s death, i.e. illness.

The truth is, even if you can blame someone else for an illness (suppose you believe you got lung cancer from breathing in asbestos at a workplace) the anger towards that individual or group of individuals does not suffice. This is because anger at someone who can no longer do anything to rectify the situation is ultimately futile. So, you still have room left over for anger at God, because deep in your heart (even apparently as an unbeliever) you know it is He who has put you in this position where cancer is capable of eating away your lungs and snuffing out your life. It is the human condition, albeit that it’s generally ignored until it asserts itself and frustrates all plans, dreams and wishes in an instant.


Those of us who may have wandered through different stages of belief, doubt, confusion, orthodoxy or otherwise could surely attest that no particular stage ever precludes the potential of feeling anger towards God.

The believer, however, hopefully starts from a different premise — at least this is the intent of the believer (some seem to have it innately, for others it requires growth and discipline). That different premise is gratitude, deep-set and on a daily basis, to the Creator for the mere fact of existence. That we are conscious at all, that there is anything — these are reasons enough for amazement in every moment. Starting from the premise that God warrants praise for His creation and His creation of us, it is then a much longer and slower journey towards anger at God because our lives are not ones of heavenly perfection at this particular time.

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