Staying in Relationship with God: It's Okay to be Angry

Many people were raised to believe that one should only say good things to, and about God. Many were taught a kind of piety that forced them into a denial of their own feelings and dishonesty toward God. Our experiences of God sometimes lead us to confused and even negative feelings. Suffering, the pain of losing a loved one, disappointment, and the existential experience of mortality all weigh heavily upon us and sometimes we’re not pleased with God. But if we are limited to pious expressions of praise and gratitude when we are feeling quite the opposite, in what sense is our prayer – indeed, our relationship with God – honest?

The Babylonian Talmud offers us a text that addresses this issue. The Rabbis point out that Moses said: “The great, mighty, and awesome God” (Deuteronomy10:17). Then came Jeremiah who thought: Strangers are destroying God’s Temple. Where then are God’s awesome deeds? Thus Jeremiah prayed, “O great and mighty God whose name is the Lord of Hosts” (Jeremiah 32:18), omitting the attribute “awesome.” Then Daniel came and thought: Strangers are enslaving God’s children. Where then are God’s mighty deeds? Thus Daniel prayed, “O great and awesome God” (Daniel 9:4), omitting the attribute “mighty.” But how could Jeremiah and Daniel omit something established by Moses? Rabbi Eleazar said: Since they knew that the Holy One, blessed be God, insists on truth, they were unable to say any false things about God.

Rabbi Eleazar is teaching us that sincere prayer demands complete honesty. God can see through false piety, even if some people cannot.

Perhaps you’re thinking that curtailing praise is not the same as issuing condemnation. Jewish history and tradition is filled with tales of those who expressed their anger, disagreement, and disappointment to God – not just with what was happening in their lives, but with God. Abraham saw fit to question God’s plans for Sodom and Gemorrah and challenge God to operate differently. Moses told God that the plan to destroy all the Israelites because of the Golden Calf was immoral and foolish. Job is the first to put God’s justice, as he perceived it, on trial. He was not the last. The Hasidic master, Rabbi Levi Yitzhak of Berditchev, is said to have put God on trial one Rosh Hashanah for permitting so much suffering. In Elie Wiesel’s memoir “Night,” which recounts his experience in the Holocaust, he tells of the inmates in Auschwitz who call God to judgment and issue a condemnation for permitting evil to operate freely in our world.

A surprising (and to some, shocking) tradition has God say: “Hate Me and revile Me, but do not ignore Me.” How insightful! It is only by bringing our raw and honest emotions to God that we can work through them, and work through the struggles and pain in our lives with God’s help.

For the religious soul, it is possible to argue with God and against God, but not to live without God.

Rabbi Scheinerman wrote this article for the Carroll County Times.