Dear God, I’m Mad as Hell

Is it permissible to be angry with God? I asked this question in a recent survey and found many people believe it is.

Some people answered that it is permissible because it is part of our free will. This came as a surprise to me because we obviously do not share a clear definition of free will. So let’s start with that. Because definitions are crucial.

I found this out recently when my two year old informed me she had just finished washing something she had in her mouth. Later I saw her swishing something around in the toilet bowl and when I asked her what she was doing she said, “I’m washing it.”

Free will is the ability to do something. We have the ability to get up in the morning and nobody wants to stop us. In Jewish philosophy, however, free will takes on a different meaning. It refers to the ability to choose between right and wrong. These choices affect us spiritually and sometimes moral choices affect our future and our afterlife. God gives us free will to choose right and wrong because that makes us more like God. Inanimate objects and spiritual beings make no choices. Animals make choices out of instinct. Only human beings have the ability to make moral choices, and those choices have a way of defining who we are.

(Some sages suggest that the point of free will inside you is the epitome of the soul, the true you. Just in case you need reminding, it says in the Zohar “What then is man? Does he consist solely of skin, flesh, bones, and sinews? No, the essence of man is his soul; the skin, flesh, bones and sinews are but an outward covering, the mere garments, but they are not the man. When man leaves (this world) he divests himself of all these garments.”)

Therefore the ability to do something does not define it as right or wrong. We have the free will to be angry with God, but that doesn’t make it right.

Anger and Happiness

Anger does not have to destroy happiness, but it often does. We generally have a difficult time having two emotions at the same time. That’s why some behavioral psychologists recommend focusing on a different emotion when you want to change the emotion you’re feeling. If you are jealous of your sister’s millionaire husband, one way to remove that jealousy is to remove it by focusing on her husband’s lack of a sense of humor. This elicits feelings of pity which wipe away the feeling of jealousy. Two emotions are hard to hold onto. We can be tired or in pain and happy, like if you just finished first in a marathon. Every bone in your body aches, but you’re deliriously happy. But being tired or in pain is not an emotion. Anger and happiness don’t sit well together.

Are you angry with God for any your “slings and arrows” that you have experienced? Do you feel guilty about being angry with God?

It is only human and natural for us to be angry with God on occasion. If you have never experienced this then you might not be paying attention. When a hurricane causes a flood that displaces the entire city of New Orleans, we all have mixed emotions. Some of us are angry with God. When we read about Darfur, the holocaust, the inquisition, or any of life’s tragedies, we sometimes get angry with God. Whether or not this is appropriate, since it is a natural human reaction, even if it is wrong, the Almighty understands and takes our nature into account. He designed us and knows our failings. He does not look to punish those who are innocent.

Belief in God

A woman once told me that she didn’t believe in God anymore since she lost her son. Something about the way she said it sounded very much to me like she was trying to get back at God. So I said, “I don’t think you don’t believe in God. I think you’re angry with God.” And she agreed.

To be angry at God is actually one of the greatest mitzvot. It shows you believe in the God of Israel. That He is loving, all knowing, and all-powerful. That He is involved with our lives and at arms length to help or heal. If you didn’t believe all these things you wouldn’t be angry with Him.

Of course from a more holistic philosophical perspective, we may come to the conclusion that we are not really angry with God. We are merely in pain. The anger comes from not understanding God’s love. As finite beings, we can’t always fathom the will of the Almighty. After all, we have to admit that if there is an Infinite Being, He must be a little wiser than we are. And He may allow things to happen or even do things Himself that we just can’t comprehend. If you are not a doctor you probably won’t comprehend why cutting someone open and removing a piece of their insides might be the best thing for them. But we’ve seen it happen enough times that we are familiar with it. We’ve seen the positive outcome. The dilemma with God’s will is that we won’t be privy to the positive outcome until one of two things happen: either we die and go to the world of truth and understanding, or God ushers in the final chapter in the saga of life.

Knowing this doesn’t stop the pain of our loss, problem or challenge, but it allows us to move forward without anger. And without anger, the happiness again will bubble to the surface. We may not be able to be angry and happy and the same time. But we can be in pain and still be happy.

In short, we should not feel guilty about being angry with God. A. Because we are human B. It shows we believe in God. But ideally we want to increase our bitachon through meditation on God’s love or reading mussar on bitachon like Shar Bitachon from Duties of the Heart.