The following is an excerpt from my new book 20 Encouragements for the Depressed Christian https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B089KVKTCX/
I became a Christian when I first started dealing with depression. I didn’t know where else to turn with my pain, so I started crying out to God. And God took me in and began changing me.
Thus, my first few years trying to deal with depression were my first few years trying to understand God. Unfortunately, I had this notion that there are certain emotions you don’t express to God because, well, He’s God. That included anger, despondency, and anxiety. God is holy and anger is sin—right? So I can’t bring that to God. He’d be mad at me.
The result was I kept many emotions inside. I didn’t express them to God because that would be sin, and I didn’t express them to other people because that would be sin. But, of course, this only made everything worse.
There’s this notion within evangelicalism that we can only tell God certain things. We’re given blanket statements that anxiety, depression, and anger are sins. (Prominent theologian John Piper once said, “It is never, ever, ever, right to be angry with God.”[ii] Suffice to say, I disagree.) Thus, when we feel these emotions (and everybody does), we assume we can’t express them to God. He’d be mad if we did.
One of the first things my therapist had me do when I began depression/anxiety therapy was to read Psalms and to journal honest prayers to God. It was exactly what I needed. I began to see in the Psalms that expressing oneself openly to God is completely okay. Indeed, God seems to encourage it (Jesus quotes a Psalm on the cross). The psalmists do not expect harsh judgment for speaking honestly with God. On the contrary, they expect God to be closer to them when they talk openly.
I realized after a while that my journaling had brought me much closer to God, even though I expressed many negative emotions to Him. And through the years, over and over again I see that God is not displeased when His people express frustration or anger at Him. In Jeremiah 15:18, Jeremiah asks God, “Why is my pain unending and my wound grievous and incurable? You are to me like a deceptive brook, like a spring that fails.” And God’s response, instead of anger, is reassurance: “If you repent, I will restore you that you may serve me; if you utter worthy, not worthless, words, you will be my spokesman…I will make you a wall to this people, a fortified wall of bronze; they will fight against you but will not overcome you, for I am with you to rescue and save you” (Jeremiah 15:19-20). Paul asks God to take away the thorn in his flesh (implying frustration, anxiety, and pain, at the least—feelings that could be construed as failing to trust God), and God responds again with reassurance, not anger. Most importantly, Jesus models for us how to interact with God: He doesn’t hold back negative emotions. He quotes Psalm 22 on the cross: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” And the night before His death, He prays in anguish for God to “take this cup from me” (Luke 22:42).
I suspect other Christians with anxiety and depression have had this problem of expressing themselves to God. We’ve been exposed to bad teaching that treats sin as a list of “Thou shalt nots.” Thus, when we feel certain “unpermitted” emotions, we think we’re bad people. But that’s not true at all. In fact, this is exactly the kind of teaching that Jesus was so opposed to. Throughout the Gospels, He criticizes the Pharisees for treating the Law as a list of Do’s and Don’ts, when all along God meant for the Law to be wisdom that benefits His people and draws them closer to Him. That’s why it was okay when David ate the consecrated bread (1 Samuel 21). That’s why it was okay for Jesus’ disciples to pick and eat heads of grain on the Sabbath (Matthew 12:1).
What John Piper and some other preachers seem to misunderstand is that sin is a heart issue—it’s not just doing or feeling something from the forbidden list. So yes, there is an anger at God that is sin—if it comes from a heart antagonistic to God. But if anger at God comes from a place of wanting to understand, of loving God but being confused and frustrated, then it seems to me that God is perfectly okay with it. And no matter what, God wants us to express ourselves to Him. That’s how we grow closer to Him.
Piper, John. “It Is Never Right to Be Angry with God.” DesiringGod, 13 Nov. 2000, https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/it-is-never-right-to-be-angry-with-god. Accessed 18 April 2020.
W.R. Harris is the founder and owner of Persevering Hope. He is the author of seven books. You can check out his author website here: http://wrhwriting.com/