Angry with God today?
Is anger understating your feelings towards God? Or if not today have you ever been enraged, hateful, irate, indignant, or resentful? Perhaps you have been accusatorial of God’s benign presence in the midst of suffering or even assign him direct responsibility for evil or pain that has afflicted you?
Denying God today?
Or you are by now beyond God, you have no anger or hatred with God, for you have come to deny the existence of any deity at all. If you have reached this point, then yes, God is Dead to you. You are not alone in your position:
“”According to the latest international survey data, as reported by Ariela Keysar and Juhem Navarro-Rivera in the recently published Oxford Handbook of Atheism, there are approximately 450-500 million non-believers in God worldwide, which amounts to about 7% of the global adult population. And according to the Pew Research Center, if we broaden the category to include all non-religious people in general — those unaffiliated adults who do not identify with any religion — we’re talking 1.1 billion people, which equals about 16.5% of the global adult population. As such, “non-religious” is actually the third largest “religion” in the world, coming only behind Christianity (in first place) and Islam (in second). Thus, there are more secular men and women on planet earth — many of whom are atheists and agnostics — than there are Hindus, Buddhists, Mormons, Sikhs, Jains, or Jews.”
The Decision to abandon Faith
If you are among the people who have never had a dark night of questioning God’s existence, count yourself as truly blessed. Your experience is not the norm. Understanding this will prepare you for helping those unfortunates who do not hold your gift of grace and cross your path in a state of disbelief.
For the rest of us mortals who have had experiences with great anger or outright disbelief, I believe the root of our malevolent state of being to be the conundrum of pervasive suffering and evil. And it sometimes leads to people quietly leaving the faith or leaving with thunder and wrath. What to we really offer people who suffer the unjust misery and suffering? Do we condemn their lack of faith? Their lack of trust in God? What decisions they have made or actions they failed to take to avoid such suffering and misery?
What have we done?
When you have experienced suffering, visible for all to see or hidden from public view, who did you turn to for help? Did you turn to God and find silence? Perhaps you turned to friends in times of great strife? Did your friends offer you platitudes or condolences? How many times have you heard or even offered yourself these traditional phrases:
- “I will pray for you and your family”
- “I am so sorry for your loss”
- “He was so young. God must have called him home”
- “You will get over this in time, God is at your side, have faith”
- “God heals all, you have to have faith”
- “No one truly knows God’s plans”
Hit with deep personal pain or witnessing unexplainable tragedy – these responses from people of faith are simply insufficient unless accompanied by other more tangible actions. Often they are not accompanied by more than a passing smile and perhaps a sympathy card. These responses, despite being well-meaning and genuine, come off as shallow and incongruous with the situation. This is not enough.
The mass shootings in the United States highlight the issue. People don’t want prayers – they want action. Family members with a loved one in the throws of addiction don’t want prayers, they want help and recovery for their loved one. People who have lost a child to evil don’t want condolences, they want their child back.
If not you personally, the global suffering we witness every day is so overwhelming that we become numb to human tragedy. We are so often powerless to effect change in the constant stream of misery that we witness everyday – if not suffered personally.
Are we not secretly at times separated from the suffering person and cognitively distancing ourselves mentally for our own sanity – hoping we cannot or will not suffer the same fate? If not would we not be in a perpetual state of immense grieving and uncontrollable sobbing?
Our approach to coping with suffering, evil, and even death itself is the greatest “cleaver” of faith that our society faces today. We have attempted to white wash life in an illusion of control of our destinies. We have come to expect a life where we are entitled to certain possessions, status, health, and other temporal acquisitions if only we work for it and others are not irrationally cooperating!
We are unprepared for the crushing blows of major disappointments, grave injustices, personal failure, violence, and other soul shattering experiences. And when they strike us our spiritual foundation is often found wanting and unable to sustain us through the storm – we blame God or deny him. Or we blame others and deny them.
We mistakenly believe if we do everything right, if our government does its job, if our doctors are practicing good medicine, if all the “others” would only do their part – we would be safe from tragedy. And yet we see everyday innocent people swept up in tragedy. How do we maintain the illusion of suffering that it only comes to “others” until it comes for us?
We should be yelling from the roof tops and in the streets about the injustices we see daily. We should be consoling the poor and the suffering not with platitudes and prayers but with blood, sweat, and tears. We can pray too – but let that be quietly and in private for our strength and perseverance in the midst of immense suffering. We cannot be blind to suffering. We cannot be numb to evil actions. We cannot ignore our neighbors near or far. We should be listening and hearing voices of disbelief and anger towards God and embracing these voices with understanding and love. We can only do that genuinely if we do so prepared and with spiritual grounding – spiritual love that transcends the human experience.
This denial of suffering (and our mortality) coupled with a weak a spiritual foundation leaves us vulnerable alienation from fellow man and God. We are unprepared for genuine response to the suffering of others or for when it visits us uninvited.
God is not dead when suffering strikes us – our spiritual immaturity has left us unable to reach out to God or hear his whispers. We are dependent on temporal things and human affections before God. When these human possession are threatened we become unmoored. We are unable to cope with the slightest inconveniences, never mind great misery and suffering.
Analyze your own Suffering?
I know a little about suffering – though not enough to claim martyrdom. My family was engulfed by alcoholism. My parents, whose hearts and souls were contradictorily of pure intention and love, were compromised by their disease progression, domestic violence, the onset of poverty, and eventually premature death for my father. Myself, and my six older siblings took in more than our share of hidden and not so hidden emotional and spiritual bruises. Two of us would go to our deaths in a state of great suffering. Our suffering was both visible and invisible. We were Catholic and all attended Catholic School. The church, nor our community, had answers for the particular flavor of suffering that afflicted my family. My accounts of shame, pride, fear, failure, success, and struggle to cope with the meaning of life and the presence of God exceeds this post. I however knew God from an early age and my relationship with God and the Catholic Church was complicated from the beginning.
Suffice it to say I had good reason to doubt in a merciful and loving God. And yet after several rounds of a contentious relationship with God – I am in the camp of God is alive and well and it is our souls that are asleep and dead to God. My suffering bought me to places that I would rather not go. At the same time, it liberated me from certain preconceived notions about myself and about humanity. My suffering, and witnessing suffering in others, has bought me closer to God and closer to mankind. That is where I am today. How did I get here back with the God that I once declared he was dead?
First, let me give you the cliché answer that Catholics will tell you – by God’s grace. I say this as I by myself have created nothing. Any revelation or spiritual consolation that sustains me is not of my own making. There have been countless books, several priest consults, spiritual books, spiritual retreats, and many hours of contemplation that have restored my faith. Beyond that there were everyday people that beamed with God’s grace that had something I once thought was naivety but later I came to understand was hard earned wisdom. And there were periods of turning my back on God, of self-destruction and self-absorption that in my case, were necessary to help me expand my horizons.
Rediscovering God has not eliminated suffering for me. Rediscovering God has transformed suffering into something meaningful beyond comprehension. I almost feel like my cross to carry is insignificant relative to others (and it is) and yet feel like it is too much for me. The truth is I am not able to manage pain and suffering with any dignity unless I do so through God. Some greater than me in spirit pray for God to give them more suffering if it is his will. I can barely manage “God’s will, not mine, be done” before my mind’s eye is fixed on my next human affection (or affliction!).
I have been discussing suffering that is undeserved (in my view) and unjust. Unexplainable suffering. There is another kind of suffering. Some people are angry as they have come to recognize their lives are built on fraudulent temporal things like power, greed, selfishness, lust, and other human desires that at the end of the day leave them empty and miserable. There is simply not enough human pleasure to satiate the human spirit or feed our narcissistic self-importance when we are living contrary to the laws of God.
Rediscovering God transforms love as well as suffering. I mentioned people who are suffering require “tangible actions.” Expression of selfless love to a person who is suffering can take many forms. It is given without expectation, carefully, and thoughtfully. It is devoid of any expectation of returns. It just is living to do the next right thing. It knows no boundaries. Receiving love as well is an art of willful gratitude and openness without ownership. We cannot possess it and freeze it in time. It is also limitless and infinite if we respect its true God given essence.
Integrating Love and Suffering:
God is present no matter the temporal reality that we are experiencing at any moment. Our cooperation in the moment with acceptance of what is, intentional spiritual consciousness of how we are called to act in any given moment, persistence and patience while in the throws of darkness, and immense gratitude when experiencing love and joy, are all fluid and one with God’s will. If only I was always on this spiritual high. If we all lived this way no suffering would shake our faith.
Wait a minute – you don’t know what I have been through?
I have known death of loved ones. I have known personal failure. I have known sickness and poor health. I have witnessed many people suffering. And yes I have no idea what you the reader have been through.
I know of your suffering as I know intimately of global suffering all over the world. In my prayers I can be bought to tears by our inhumanity to each other. In contemplation I can become overwhelmed with emptiness and lack of understanding. In moments of confusion and helplessness, I like Job, want answers now.
I believe that a thoughtful and open minded journey exploring one’s faith, one’s suffering, and one’s life long loves or joys can restore and strengthen lost faith. I also believe finding genuine faith that is well discerned will improve us and the people around us.
This three part series on “Is God Dead” was ignited by a new reading of the Book of Job. I have learned that you and I should challenge our faith, ourselves, and those around us when faith is in question or when we or a neighbor is suffering. It is a call to universal arms that we fight suffering, love one another, and embrace spirituality. Mine just happens to be Christianity in form.
God by another name?
The name on the shingle of the church is secondary to the actions of people inside the temple. What we do with love and suffering outside the temple is also testament to the fidelity of the shingle holder’s ability to carry the word of God. Those without a shingle (without a church) are not off the hook either. The 1.1 billion people have a shared social contract with us based on moral evolution as a species that shares many of the values shared by our religious institutions. That being said, I would be remiss and lacking an authentic voice if I did not say find a catholic spiritual advisor, preferably a Jesuit, to explore the faith and your objections to Christianity today, gently and with love.
There is evidence out there that faith is good for your general well-being and happiness. Review the science if you are skeptical. Many “well-being” models of therapy employ techniques that are borrowed from religions with rich spiritual practices and traditions. Mindfulness, Yoga, Tai Chi and many forms of meditation can trace portions of their practices to religion. They can be helpful in and of themselves – but let me say they are also temporal and missing the main ingredient, genuine spirituality and connection to a higher universal meaning. Some orthodox religious believers see these practices as dangerous and even heretical in nature. I do not prescribe to this assertion but can see their point that practices aimed solely at self-soothing, avoiding pain and discomfort, and seeking personal peace can be misapplication of effort and ultimately spiritually limiting.
How can I return to God?
I firmly believe you cannot “crowd source” faith. It is helpful to have company of faithful people – but ultimately faith is an individual responsibility. Without individual responsibility religious institutions and your faith run the risk of becoming human created cults operating on superficial clichés of dead letters quoted in ancient text. The institutions and their believers can become enveloped in the very evils that faith preaches against. My church as well as every religious institution has to reconcile this threat everyday. No one individual or set of individuals owns the faith of any great religion. Study history and you will find grave errors by every religious institution known to mankind executed in God’s name.
This by the way is what I take Nietzsche meant when he said “God is Dead.” Individuals ceded personal responsibility for their faith to rigid religious institutions and became docile in their beliefs. Ironically his philosophy was used by Nazi Germany to let a charismatic leader lead a docile people into being partners in one of the greatest evils of all time.
Love your neighbor as yourself and help alleviate suffering whenever you see it. Simple. As for God’s role and responsibility, pre and post Christ, I believe it is still up to us to live up to his expectations, not the other way around.
The Longer Path:
I was struggling to bring this three part series to a close. I was keenly aware that the pain and suffering that people are experiencing cannot be relieved by my writing alone. I am deeply saddened by our collective isolation and alienation from God. I am aware that as long as I am mortal my search for proximity to God and spiritual transcendence will never be fulfilled.
Suffering remains a part of our experience – both in human misery and in spiritual distance from our creator.
I went to retire last night and was provided closure to this post by para phrasing Pope Francis:
“….we must love God and our neighbor – and this is not comfortable. It is demanding, and requires us to strive, which means having a decisive and persevering will to live according to the Gospel.”
“the Lord will not recognize us on account of our titles, but only on account of a humble life, a good life, a life of faith that results in works.”
“Spending our lives for the good of our brothers and sisters for Christians means that we are called to restore a true communion with Jesus, praying, going to Church, approaching the Sacraments and nourishing ourselves on His Word. This maintains us in faith, nourishes our hope, revives charity.”
“In this way with the grace of God, we can and must spend our life for the good of our brothers and sisters, struggling against every form of evil and of injustice.”
I mentioned earlier comforting those who suffer with tangible actions. The sufferer may also be ourselves. Faith is not a passive activity. It is not waiting at a bus stop for the God bus to arrive. It is inside us and all around us to be lived and participated in every moment.
Strive to understand suffering and faith today
Make a e decisive and persevering will to live a holy life today
Restore a true communion with God (through exploration of your faith)
Join the struggle against every form of evil and of injustice
Find time for spiritual contemplation daily to make sure you take full ownership of your faith and your works and that they are truly aligned with your greater purpose here on earth, consciously and actively
May this post find you in a good spiritual place ready to embrace love and suffering with resolve and appropriate intentional living. Thank you for visiting my site today.