Elizabeth Brenner Danziger
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Does it pay to be angry at God?

Pain is an unavoidable human experience, but we can choose how much we let it affect our happiness and relationship with our Creator
Sometimes we wonder why God makes bad things happen.
Sometimes it's hard to cope with difficulties (Unsplash)

I have a friend who is always angry at God.

Did someone:

  • Die an untimely death?
  • Develop a severe illness?
  • Lose a loved one under tragic circumstances?

My friend’s response is, “God made a mistake! That person didn’t deserve their fate.” My friend is an avowed atheist, yet the capricious, malign Divine consumes his attention.

I’m not here to say whether God makes mistakes or even whether He exists — those questions are way above my pay grade. Instead, I am asking whether believing in an ill-intentioned or incompetent Creator contributes to our ability to cope with life’s inevitable losses.

I have had moments of anger at God. My father died when I was nine years old. I felt that He had struck me a terrible blow, one that I would never be able to comprehend. Over time, I worked through my anger and forgave Him for the loss He had caused me. I coped. After a long time, I flourished. Getting back into a sense of connection with God was part of my healing.

When we believe that God has it in for us, we suffer more than if we bear our tribulations believing that, even if we don’t see it in the moment, God has our back. Jewish scholars such as the Malbim, a 19th-century commentator, have pointed out that “trouble” and “distress” are two different things. We can have a lot of trouble yet feel little distress. In other words, pain is inevitable; suffering is optional.

Nevertheless, being angry at God has benefits. When we are angry, we are engaged. Being mad at God is better than being disengaged completely because it means that we have a path to reconciliation. As 94-year-old Dr. Erika Jacoby, a Holocaust survivor and former psychotherapist, says, “If you are angry with God, talk to Him! You cannot have a relationship with someone you do not talk to. Tell God you are angry and see what He says.” God is unlikely to talk to us directly, but a thought may cross our minds, a coincidence may comfort us, or we may have a clarifying dream after reaching out. It’s worth a try!

Believing in God while believing that he is capricious or incompetent means having the worst of both worlds of atheism and faith. The atheist simply believes that “stuff happens.” An impersonal fate is bound to seem random and capricious. The believer who thinks that God is real and powerful but screws up from time to time is stuck with an unreliable hand on the tiller of the world.

If we operate on the assumption that God is good – despite occasional appearances to the contrary – we are relieved of the gut-wrenching bitterness of living in a universe where the main power either does not care or is incapable of doing anything about human suffering. Believing that God is both powerful and good brings us serenity, acceptance, and a willingness to look for the positive in any situation.

But how do we know that our belief in a benevolent God is “true”? Could we be deceiving ourselves? In the absence of a winged chariot descending from Heaven with angels crooning, “God is good!,” none of us is sure whether our beliefs are true. But I am a firm believer in “acting as if”.  I can choose to live my life as if God doesn’t exist or hates me. On the other hand, I can commit to the perspective in which God is good and has reasons for the events that happen in the world.

In his book Gateway to Happiness, Rabbi Zelig Pliskin wrote, “Those who have Emunah (faith) suffer less from misfortune.” Let’s face it, bad stuff happens. If we believe there is a Creator, it’s natural to blame Him when things go wrong. However, getting out of connection with the Divine ultimately brings out of connection with ourselves and our ability to act on life.

To a great extent, we cannot control what happens to us. We can, however, control our reactions to what happens. And when what happens is an illness, a loss, or a tragedy, who is the happier person? The one who bellows blame at God, the supposedly all-powerful deity who “made a mistake” this time?

Or the one who breathes deeply and says, “I don’t understand it. I don’t like it. But I accept that God is good.”?

About the Author
Elizabeth Brenner Danziger is the author of four books, including Winning by Letting Go (Harcourt Brace: 1985) and Get to the Point! (Random House: 2001). Her work has appeared in many national magazines. She is the president of Worktalk Communications Consulting. She has four grown children and many grandchildren. She has been living an observant Jewish life for 40 years.
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