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Home > 2013 > July Web Exclusives > How to Pray When You're Pissed at God

No one escapes pain, and loss is inevitable.

I first discovered this personally when I watched my baby brother die from a genetic defect that was "incompatible with life." Though whole on the outside, his inner workings were irreparably different from what people need to survive. I was 8 years old, wide-eyed, and confused. I hope that his 3-day-old suffering was small. But I know that our family's was great. The helplessness, resignation, and wrongness of that loss hurt.

Afterwards, I saw from my second-grade perspective the various responses of our church to my family's difficult time. We were new to the faith. I watched my parents mourn and receive comfort from people that we worshipped with on Sundays. Some of them were wonderful, silent. They suffered with us. Others had no clue what to do, other than share awkward platitudes or even trying to change the subject to something other than the little bundle lying just out of sight.

Since then, I've been around plenty of premature funerals, at plenty of hospital beds where the morphine wasn't cutting it, or was cutting it too well. Across plenty of coffee tables from close friends one Americano away from breaking down. I've seen and heard the myriad Christian responses for when life hurts. Many were wonderful. But many others were totally inadequate to plumb the depths with people in the valleys of shadow.

Lost language

Sometimes I wonder if our Christian subculture has lost the ability to reckon with suffering. You'd be hard pressed to find any indication in most Christian media that we suffer at all. The few resources dedicated to the topic of suffering or anger towards God are either for a crowd that already knows the word "theodicy," or else so sugar-coated with sweet nuggets of how to get over your grief and on with your life that the pain and richness of suffering all but disappears. Where is the anger? The deep grief? The sense of having gazed into the abyss without any indication that God even cared about what was bumping around down there? We seem to want to excuse God even at the moments when our every instinct is to blame him.

It's polite, but hollow.

The Christian story is unflinching in its treatment of suffering. It looks the full horrors of the human experience in the eye—and refuses to turn away. It finds life and joy in the middle of it all. Our doctrine is rich with holy contradictions of blood and bandages, deaths and resurrections, and a hundred inexplicable moments of hope right when all seems lost. We have holy, angry, righteous indignation against the world's systems of abuse and oppression. And, of course, our spiritual ancestors often railed against God.

So when did we forget our rich, raging heritage?

Raging and reverent

AM talk radio is a bit like Nazareth. Can anything good come out of it? Yes, if How to Pray when You're Pissed at God (Random House, 2013) is any indication.

Ian Punnett isn't your stereotypical prayer guru. His day job is as a talk radio host/ rock station DJ, including on the (in)famous and bizarre Coast to Coast AM show, which I freely admit to listening to, anytime I have to drive creepy, isolated roads at night. When I saw his bio I expected a book that was short on prayer and long on pissed. I was wrong.

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Paul J. Pastor is associate editor of Leadership Journal.

Related Topics:FaithHealingHonestyHopePrayerRenewal
Posted: July 1, 2013

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Displaying 1–5 of 11 comments

Craig Scott

March 10, 2014  2:55am

Hmmmmmmmmm.... The title of this article is disturbing. When Christians, particularly Christian leaders, believe they have to lower themselves and compromise their principles and speech in order to be heard, or in order to give more perceived weight to their words, it is sad. It is just as easy to say "When you're mad at God" rather than the other. In fact, the title of the article turned me off and I did not read it at all, based only on the title. It may have contained a wealth of wisdom...I'll never know. The reason - I will not compromise with the spirit of this world. It's the same with a book. If the title is offensive, then probably the rest of the book is too. Pastor Craig.

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Blaine Byrum

August 29, 2013  8:05am

I hear the point about getting pissed at God being disrespectful. But that doesn't mean it doesn't still happen. Ultimately, that's what this article, book, and all of life comes down to. We DO get angry at this planet and all the pain there is, and we DO get pissed. And at that point is where different paths are taken. When angry at God, one kind of person, DESPITE all the piss in their heart, tries to portray an outward appearance of docile trust and calmness, all while turmoil and doubt are swirling in their heads. They don't ever want other Christians to see that they're pissed, because the unspoken rule is that Christians aren't SUPPOSED to be pissed. If you are one of those people, and have commented on this board, rest assured, we all know you're in this category. The other kind of person already knows that God knows all the piss I think, and still loves me, so why keep up appearances? Maybe saying how I truly feel out loud is for ME to see what's really in me.

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July 10, 2013  9:14pm

I am distressed by the title too since I think it represents a degrading of Christian standards in order to appropriate what is currently "hip" in the world, but I am even more distressed by some of the responses which have lacked charity. Michael Cheshire writes a sarcastic response to someone implying that they must have "perfect souls" to express those views. I think that is not only quite illogical but also unloving. Is the view being put that unless one is morally perfect one cannot identify moral failings? In relation to the article contents: I used to get angry with God too, but then I grew a little spiritually and realised that God is God and I am not. I realised my anger was actually the product of pride, ego, distorted doctrine, selfishness, and a view of God that equated him to some kind of servant. In short, my anger flowed from a God-dishonouring attitude and view of him.

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July 10, 2013  11:49am

We all forget that God knows our inner most thoughts. When we're hurting and our mind is screaming all those loathsome words we know. Is God impressed by the grin we past on our faces, is he foiled from knowing about our pain. Its far better to be honest with God, it's why he commands us to pray than ti hide our feelings behind pious words.

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Rick Dalbey

July 10, 2013  11:16am

Michael and Doctor, him that pisseth against a wall (1st Kings) is one thing, it is a simple designation for a man. But him that is pissed at God? I can't think of a worse insult than to say that someone would urinate against God. Wow. What is your problem?

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