Forgiving God

How can you make peace when you are angry with God?

By Charles D. Kelley

This article was first published in DISCIPLESHIP JOURNAL Issue 46 July/Aug 1988

"Forgive God? That ISometimes life hurts us. And when we are hurt, the natural response is anger. When another person is responsible for our pain, our anger turns toward the one who has injured us. To restore peace, we know we need to forgive. But sometimes there’s no clear culprit in our suffering. At those times, it’s natural to place the blame on the One we know is in control of everything. And so we unleash our anger on God.

What can a young woman do with her bitter feelings toward God when she finds herself experiencing her third miscarriage in fifteen months? What can parents do with their profound anger toward God when they learn that their baby boy has Down’s syndrome? How can an elderly man not blame God when he discovers that he has Parkinson’s disease? How can a victim of a horrible car accident or a cruel rape effectively come to grips with the truth that God does care, He is all-powerful, yet He permits awful tragedies?

To restore peace in his most important relationship, the Christian can choose to forgive God.

Forgive God? That I need to be forgiven by God is without question; that God needs to be forgiven by me borders on blasphemy. Why? Simply because the act of forgiving implies that the object of forgiveness is guilty of sin and needs to be pardoned. But God can’t sin. He is holy. No one has the right to pardon God, for He has not sinned against anyone.

Yet many of us may need to go through a process with God that resembles forgiveness. Not because God has sinned and needs to be pardoned, but because we treat Him as if He has. Even though God doesn’t need to be pardoned, we may need to “forgive” Him.


WHY WE GET ANGRY

Why do some people need to forgive God? Let’s take a look at a few reasons.

Some need to forgive God because they blame Him for all human tragedy. There’s an old story about a Jewish tailor who met a rabbi on his way out of the synagogue.

“Well, and what have you been doing in the synagogue, LevAshram?” inquired the rabbi.

“I was saying prayers, Rabbi.”

“Fine, and did you confess your sins?”

“Yes, Rabbi, I confessed my little sins.”

“Your little sins?”

“Yes, I confessed that sometimes I cut cloth on the short side and cheat on a yard of wool by a couple of inches.”

“You said that to God, Lev Ashram?”

“Yes, Rabbi, and more. I said, ‘Lord, I cheat on pieces of cloth; You let little babies die. But I am going to make You a deal. You forgive my little sins, and I’ll forgive Your big ones.’”

Over the centuries God has been accused of many big sins. He has been labeled as cruel, partial, sadistic, uncaring, and impotent. If God is good why does He allow human suffering? Is it really in His will that half of the world’s population starve? How can a gracious God permit countless babies to be born with severe birth defects? Why would God allow a young father to accidentally run over and crush his two-year-old child while backing his car out of the driveway?

To forgive God is to look these tough questions right in the eye, come to grips with scriptural truth about God’s love, power, and sovereignty, and then to fully submit to His will.

Others need to forgive God because they resent Him for not allowing a loved one to live.

Recently, friends of ours lost their fifty-five-year-old mother to cancer. The cancer was first diagnosed nearly two years ago. The initial exploratory surgery indicated that the cancer had spread rapidly and that death was right around the corner.

A literal army of believers began to pray. To the doctor’s amazement, she improved rapidly and was soon pronounced to be in remission. How the Body of Christ rejoiced! This wonderfully gifted and godly woman would be able to continue to live a fruitful life. It was so right.

But suddenly, right after Christmas, the cancer reappeared. More prayers were offered to the Lord, but to no avail. She declined rapidly and died.

“Why?” demanded our friends. “Her life was so productive. Why did she have to die? How come God permits that good-for-nothing grump over there to live and yet insists that Mom die? It isn’t fair! It isn’t right! We won’t stand for it! Yet what could they do? They could either let their anger fester, or they could choose to forgive God. They did the latter.

To forgive God is to choose to honestly identify one’s angry feelings toward God, verbalize them to Him, and then release them to His care.

Some need to forgive God because they are angry with Him for creating them with flaws. Since early childhood I have struggled with a speech impediment. There have been times when I have been unable to answer the phone, order a hamburger, or even say my name.

I sought help from a Hollywood speech coach. He said I was a hopeless case. I tried the technique of inflicting pain on myself whenever I sensed the onset of a speech block, in order to distract my subconscious mind and thereby free my tongue to speak fluently. It worked, but I soon realized that such behavior was actually a greater bondage in itself. I went to a Christian psychiatrist who flippantly prescribed an anti-depressant drug that rendered my mind useless. For eight months I went through psychotherapy, analyzing the deep feelings of anger I have harbored toward the important people of my past. That helped some, but not much. Out of desperation I even asked a fellow pastor to expose and expel the “demon of stuttering” so that I could be effectively used by God in a proclamation ministry. Yet I still stutter. The embarrassment and pain that a stutterer experiences in the middle of a speech block is devastating. But without a doubt the larger frustration comes in trying to answer the question, why?

Answers simply aren’t there. Several years ago I took a long walk to talk this matter over with God. “Lord,” I pleaded, “either take away my desire to preach or take away my stuttering. It’s not fair for You to plant a passion within my heart to proclaim Your truth and then for You to see to it that I verbally stumble all over my tongue in the process.”

I kept walking and praying, hoping to sense some sort of answer. Nothing. More walking and praying. Still nothing. Finally, I declared to the Father, “Lord, if You want me to preach, I’ll preach. And if You want me to stutter, I’ll stutter. I don’t understand, but if You can use a stammering preacher, here am I, use me. I’m willing to stutter for Your glory.” I still preach; I still stutter; and God is using me.

What did I do that evening while walking and praying? I openly admitted my anger toward God, talked it over with Him, quit blaming Him for my problems, and yielded myself to His service. Among other things, I forgave God.


TO RECONCILE WITH GOD

Perhaps a better way to describe what it means to forgive God is to say that we need to reconcile with God. The term reconciliation literally means “to completely change.” It carries with it the idea of removing the barriers that separate two individuals, so that the relationship can be changed from a state of estrangement to a state of closeness. For us to reconcile with God is not to be confused with the fact that He has reconciled us to Himself. God has already removed all the barriers that prevented Him from offering us forgiveness. As Paul wrote to the church in Colosse, “Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation” (Col. 1:21-22 ). Paul is saying that God “completely changed” our status from aliens to citizens, from enemies to friends. Then He offered us forgiveness. We were simply the object of reconciliation, not the initiators. God did all the reconciling.

But in another sense we can reconcile with God. When a barrier separates us from God, we must identify it and the conditions that have permitted the barrier to remain. Our attitude must be “completely changed” and the barrier removed. When we do that we reconcile with God.


BREAKING DOWN THE BARRIERS

The bottom line of forgiving God is the removal of barriers that prevent us from trusting Him. Let’s take a look at a few.

The barrier of silence. When a human relationship is strained, it is natural for both parties to avoid communication with the other. Yet without communication the removal of the separating barriers is impossible. The same is true in our relationship with God, with one major exception: God is always available to communicate with us. But are we willing to talk with Him?

One of the marvelous things about the Bible is that it is filled with examples of real people who struggled with many of the same issues we struggle with. Take Psalm 22 . David was so overwhelmed by his enemies and felt so completely abandoned by God that he broke the barrier of silence with God by writing out this prayer: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from the words of my groaning? O my God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer” (vv. 1-2 ).

Have you ever said something like that to God? I have. There have been times when I’ve been so exasperated with a situation that I have let God have it with both barrels. Don’t misunderstand. It’s not particularly virtuous for us to blast God, but it’s a start. It is infinitely better to communicate our frustrated feelings toward God than to remain silent. But let’s not forget that the goal in such communication is resolution, not merely emotional relief.

The barrier of resentment. This is perhaps the most difficult barrier to get rid of, for it requires us to acknowledge that we are actually bitter toward God. This is tough for most of us, for who wants to admit that he has the audacity to hold a grudge against God? Did you notice how David acknowledged his anger with God? He didn’t pull any punches. He felt God had been ignoring his prayers—even though his theology told him otherwise. So he poured out all the emotions of his heart to the Father.

How we need to do the same thing! When we’re uptight with God for any reason, we must come to grips with our hostile feelings and describe them to God. I find that a pad of paper and a pen are helpful tools in this process. Several times I’ve worked through what I call my “Anger List.” I simply answer the following questions on a sheet of paper: Do I know of anyone I need to forgive? Do I harbor any resentment toward God? What do I need to do to resolve that conflict now?

Then I write out a prayer to the Lord describing my thoughts and feelings. I make sure not to leave my prayer chamber until I have acknowledged, confessed, and dealt with all known feelings of bitterness toward God.

The barrier of forgetfulness. Some of us ask lots of “why” questions—especially during times of crisis. Answers to some of these questions aren’t satisfying. It’s at such times that we are most likely to challenge God. Some people are bitter toward God simply because they don’t understand His love, power, and sovereign control. When they accuse God of being cruel or unfair, they simply demonstrate that they have not exposed themselves to the truth of God in Scripture. Not so for most believers. We already know that God cares, that He is able to do whatever He wants to do, and that He never makes a mistake. But how often we forget!

A wise man once said, “It is required more often for men to be reminded than to be informed.” Through the regular study of God’s Word, we must remind ourselves of what God is really like. He does care; He can intervene; He is in full control.

This is how the psalmist resolved his conflict with God in Psalm 22 . “You are enthroned as the Holy One; you are the praise of Israel” (v. 3 ). David redirected his focus from his predicament to the character of God, and in so doing was able to relinquish his bitterness. Then he could peacefully trust God again.

Scripture doesn’t answer all the specifics of our “why” questions, but it does sharpen our focus on the One who knows why. Then we can rest assured in His arms.


DO YOU CHOOSE BITTERNESS OR TRUST?

Allow me to tell two true stories. Both contain tragedy and the need to “forgive” God. Yet in these stories we see two entirely different responses, and two different outcomes.

Charlie is an eighty-year old bachelor who lives in a retirement home. He is plagued not only with cancer and emphysema, but the reputation of being rude, bitter, and angry. He frequently tells his fellow residents that he wants to die. Recently he was engaged in a rather lively conversation with the chaplain. “I’m tired of living. Why can’t I die?” Charlie demanded.

“Well,” replied the chaplain, “if you’re ready to die and have made peace with the Lord….”

“What! I don’t want to have anything to do with God!” he interrupted. “Years ago I believed in God. Then my mother got sick. I prayed that God would heal her, but she died. And I’ve never forgiven Him for it. I hate God. I don’t want to have anything to do with Him!”

Is there any wonder that Charlie wants to die?

Writer and speaker Ann Kiemel tells the story of a car ride with a young couple and their little girl, Paula. The child wore braces on her legs, the result of cerebral palsy. Sitting on Ann’s lap, Paula said, “Ann, I have a new baby brother.”

Seeing no baby, Ann asked, “You do? Where is he?”

Paula’s mother turned around from the front seat and said, “Ann, Paula doesn’t understand. God did give us a little baby boy a few months ago, but he only lived for a few weeks.”

She went on to describe that after he died, they became very angry with God. They asked God all the “why” questions. “And Ann,” she concluded, “we still don’t have all the answers, but we’re working it through. Our anger and pain have gradually been replaced by His peace. And even though we don’t understand why He took our baby away, we do understand that because we have Paula, He’s given us a ministry to other parents of children with cerebral palsy. We’re reaching scores of people for Christ who might never have been reached otherwise, and we’re thankful to God for that.”

Two different crises. Two different responses. Two very different results.

We all experience tragedy. How we respond to God during tragedy will, to a large degree, determine if we will emerge from that crisis weakened or strengthened. When life hurts, we have two choices. We can become embittered and resentful, building barriers between ourselves and our heavenly Father. Or we can tear clown the barriers, surrender our concept of how life should be, and “forgive” God.

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