“… we must ask ourselves whether or not we are angry with God. We must learn how to feel that anger and not deny it. We must learn to trust God enough to bring that anger into our prayers and share it with God. Remember that sharing anger is an act of love. We must demand that God let us know that our anger has been heard. If we can do this, we will be surprised by the warmth, closeness and intimacy we will experience from God.”
— John J. McNeill, Taking a Chance on God
God and I had it out recently. There was a lot of yelling, and crying, and finger pointing [one finger in particular]. Then there was a lot of silence. I couldn’t believe what I had just done. Had I really just told God to get the hell out of my life? Had I really just given God the finger? Indeed I had. I had had it with God. Nothing was going right … life was looking pretty bleak and there didn’t seem to be any end in sight to the pain and anguish I was feeling. I was angry with God for my situation, and I let God have both barrels.
Several years ago even the idea of pitching such a fit would have been out of the question. Get mad at God? No way! We’re supposed to fear God. If one fears God, one would never scream and yell at God, no matter what the circumstance. But I’ve learned over the years that it’s okay to shake my fist at God now and then. God and I are in a deep, intimate relationship. If I can’t yell at God, who can I yell at?
It took me up until now when I re-read McNeill’s words to realize that my fit before God was a genuine act of prayer … and more than that … a genuine act of love. It’s only when we’re really comfortable with another person that we can yell at them. When we’re in a new stage of a relationship, we’re very careful. We do what we can to avoid offending the other person. We don’t want any major disagreements to come up for fear that the other person might be so offended they will leave us. It’s those friends we can bicker with, yell at and later reconcile with, who are our closest confidants. Those are the friends you know will be with you through thick and thin, no matter what. God is such a friend to me. Despite telling God to get the hell out of my life, God is still here. Despite telling God exactly what I thought of God’s way of running my life … of God’s will for my life, God is still here, directing my life, showing me God’s will for my life. The warmth, the closeness and the intimacy I felt for God after this little tantrum was indeed surprising. I expected to feel more distant, more cut off, and lonelier than ever before. Instead, God wrapped me in a loving embrace, dried my tears, forgave me for my insolence and took me back, no questions asked.
I meet so many GLBT people who are angry. They say they’re angry at the church, at their parents, at society. In reality, they are very angry with God. Why are we so afraid to get into a tangle with God? Why are we, as gays and lesbians, so afraid to admit that we’re angry with God? Why is it so hard for us to bring that anger to God?
The answer, in part, lies within organized religion. We, as GLBT people, have been taught almost from birth that we are somehow “disordered.” We are told by most organized religions that God detests us as we are and that we must change our sexual orientation to win God’s acceptance and love. Often, GLBT people invest so much of their self worth, and self-esteem in these opinions of their faith, usually to their detriment. People try a variety of things to make it “right” with God. They go to ex-gay ministries, deny their sexuality, rush into a heterosexual marriage and hurry to have kids, thinking all these things will “cure” them … make them “normal” and most of all, acceptable … not only to God, but to their friends, family, and church. Society’s definitions of normal, and expectations that no one deviate from the ideal of the nuclear man, woman, 2.5 children family force many GLBT people to live a lie. At the heart of that lie is the belief that if they live as the GLBT people they are then God would not love them. In fact, God would actively hate them and seek their destruction.
I went through a similar experience myself. I always “knew” that my orientation was “wrong.” My upbringing in the Southern Baptist faith instilled in me a sense that only heterosexuality was acceptable. That belief was enforced by the pervading images of heterosexuality in society. I never saw any happy gay couples while I was growing up. When one heard of gay people it was under sinister circumstances. Someone had gotten “caught” doing something they should not have been doing. Those people were shamed!
At 16, I discovered my true sexuality. Certainly I had known it all along since I had experienced crushes on other girls dating back to one of my earliest memories at age 5! But, at 16 I put a word with it … lesbian. It shocked me. It horrified me … and truly, it disgusted me. How could I be something that God clearly hated? According to my upbringing, I was an abomination … irretrievably broken and forsaken by God. I made a choice. I told God to get bent. I ignored God for a good five years until my first girlfriend insisted we go to church. I didn’t want to. I was angry with God. God didn’t like me … a lesbian, so I didn’t like God. Forsaking was a two way street in my mind. It all seemed rather simple.
The reconciliation of my sexuality and spirituality has been a long, arduous journey with many setbacks. I continue to battle doubts and fears, but they are certainly less frequent. I have discovered, as McNeill says, “that God is not homophobic even though the human church is.”
Another reason we fear getting angry with God is that, in the back of our minds, we’re afraid God will leave us. It’s the reason we don’t yell at others in our lives, especially when we’re unsure of how solid the relationship with that other person is. We may feel we’re on shaky ground in our relationship with God. Yelling at God will only make things worse, right? Certainly not! God already knows about our anger. God already understands the situations we’re in and the frustrations we are feeling. Telling God about that anger is often the first step to letting go of the anger and moving on! Far from forcing God away from us, that anger can bring God even closer to us! Our anger can give us release from our frustrations and problems, and though we may not see that relief immediately, it’s often our first step to realizing the goals for which we have been striving!
Instead of sharing our anger with God, and letting God heal us, we often strike the first blow and leave God. We abandon our faith, certain that God hates us and would never grieve losing us. There are many GLBT people who would never even think to darken the doorway of a church. And, in truth, who would blame them? The church, or more specifically, many church members, have caused great mental and spiritual harm to GLBT people. The anger, the fear, the feeling of rejection is completely understandable. The reluctance to ever return to church is perfectly logical.
My goal here is not to urge anyone to return to church who does not feel led to do so. Instead, my goal is to urge you to give your anger to God. You may have abandoned God, but I promise that God has not abandoned you. By giving your anger back to God, you can begin to grow again in God’s loving embrace.
Remember that even Jesus got angry. He overturned the tables of the moneychangers in the temple [Matthew 21:12-13], accusing them of making the temple “a den of robbers.” His anger was an act of love for not only the sanctity of the temple, but for the sanctity of the people! Jesus also felt the despair of God’s absence when he cried out at his crucifixion, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me!” [Matthew 27:46] Jesus understands what it’s like to be angry … and, moreover, he understands the feelings of fear, despair, anger and loneliness that we experience when we feel God has forsaken us.
Paul told the Ephesians to “be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger.” [4:26] Paul was addressing humans who are angry with other humans, but I believe this passage can also be applied to our anger with God. We can be angry, but we must not let that anger lead us to sin, which it so often does. We must come to God early with our anger. We cannot “let the sun go down on [our] anger” by supressing it! Our suppressed anger finds expression in many sinful ways … low self-esteem, abuse of drugs and alcohol, abuse of our bodies through one-night stands and other forms of cheap and meaningless sex. As GLBT people, our churches, our families, and our government have made us to feel less than human. It’s understandable then that we, too, begin to hate ourselves for what we are.
Recognizing our anger, embracing it, and expressing it to God is the best gift we can give to ourselves and to God. It is an ultimate act of love and trust between God and us. With the release of our anger comes a greater feeling of self-esteem. We no longer desire to abuse our bodies and our souls. Instead, we seek after our own best interest. We do that by discerning God’s will for our lives, and living into that purpose. Through embracing our anger we’ve turned our self-hatred into love. By embracing our anger we begin to show love not only for ourselves, but also for the God who created us as GLBT people.
So, have it out with God. Yell, shake your fist at God, scream — use obscenities if you feel like it. God will understand. God already feels the pain of your loss, the pain of your anger, the pain of your rejection. Share the feelings with God. God will not punish you. God will not abandon you. Instead you’ll “be surprised by the warmth, closeness and intimacy [you] will experience from God.” God will wrap you in a loving embrace called grace and bring you home.
Founder of Motley Mystic and the Jubilee! Circle interfaith spiritual community In Columbia, S.C., Candace Chellew (she/her) is the author of Bulletproof Faith: A Spiritual Survival Guide for Gay and Lesbian Christians (Jossey-Bass, 2008). Founder and Editor Emeritus of Whosoever, she earned her masters of theological studies at Emory University’s Candler School of Theology, was ordained by Gentle Spirit Christian Church in December 2003, and trained as a spiritual director through the Omega Point program of the Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta. She is also a musician and animal lover.