I hadn’t seen Kevin since we worked together on the night shift at a newspaper in New York more than 25 years ago.
When we met for lunch, he talked about his career, his job hunt, our mutual friends and his life. He had met a charming woman, they dated, they married and they had a daughter.
The little girl, whom he loved dearly, was a special needs child, and his wife, who was very successful in her profession, was away on business a lot. He ignored his suspicions that she was having an affair, but when their daughter was less than a year old, she left them both, and he had to struggle through a bitter divorce. He concluded his painful story with the comment, “At least, I didn’t lose my faith ... I’m not angry with God.”
When something goes wrong in our lives, God is often charged with the offense. The One we need the most is the one we blame the most. “God, how could you let this happen?” or “God, I never want to talk to you again!” And so on.
Over the years, I’ve lost count of the times I’ve been angry with God for something I thought he should have prevented, resolved or handled better – I didn’t get the promotion, I didn’t get the girl, I didn’t get the recognition, someone was sick, someone died. Whether it was minute or monumental, God often took the blame. My thinking went something like, “God, after all I did for you ...” (Fill in the blank.)
If I were Kevin, I would probably have said, “God, why didn’t you stop her from leaving? How am I going to take care of my daughter alone?”
I suspect many people who claim to be atheists are angry with God for something that happened in their lives, which hurt them terribly. I once knew a man who spent a lifetime angry with God because his wife died and left him alone. His pain was compounded by his anger. Even though he never wanted to talk to God again, I’m sure God was always there, pleading for him to come back and trying to ease his pain, which only God’s love can do.
When I was young and got angry with God, I assumed he was responding, “Go ahead, behave like that ... you’ll be sorry!” When, in fact, God was saying, “Don’t be angry. I know it hurts. I’m always with you.”
God is an infinitely loving and caring parent, constantly watching over a world of people who behave like toddlers prone to temper tantrums and angry outbursts. Nevertheless, he is always calling us back from our resentment and pain, to heal our wounds and offer us hope.
Several months ago, I attended a Mass of Remembrance at St. Rose of Lima Church in Newtown and sat behind a family who had lost a 6-year-old daughter in the shooting at Sandy Hook School five years ago. I had to admit to myself that I never could have endured their pain, and I knew with absolute certainty I would have been angry with God, the world and just about anyone else I could think of.
It’s easy to forget that God isn’t the cause of our pain – he’s the source of our healing.
It’s easy to blame God for the consequences of our free will, but while we sputter and spew, God’s busy picking up the pieces, often without our realizing, and making all things new from the mess that we or someone else created.
Despite our anger, God waits for us to return, loving us and forgiving us, just like the father in the parable of the prodigal son, who when confronted by his resentful and jealous older son, didn’t respond, “You ungrateful lout ... after all I did for you!” Instead, he tried to console him with the reassuring words, “Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours.”
Anger destroys our spiritual life, anger hinders forgiveness and anger impedes love. What’s the antidote? Prayer and quiet time in front of the tabernacle, talking to God and emptying our hearts of resentment and grief. Only that will heal us.
As we were about to leave, Kevin ended his story. He told me that after all the hurt and pain, he found a woman who loves him and loves his daughter. I couldn’t help but think that was God at work.
Joe Pisani of Orange is a writer whose work has appeared in Catholic publications nationwide. He and his wife Sandy have four daughters.