Everyone Gets Angry at God, but Religious People Less So
During a crisis or troubled times, it is natural for people to get angry and even turn that anger toward God. Even those who are religious feel this anger at times, although they usually experience less negative feelings and are better able to later let go of their anger and accept the troubling event. This is important, say researchers at Case Western Reserve University, because those who cannot let go of anger often have poorer mental and physical health than those who can.
Negative Events Blamed On God, Feelings of Betrayal and Abandonment
Julie Exline, a psychologist and associate professor at Case Western, analyzed the results of five previous studies and finds that nearly two out of three people report that they have felt angry at God, commonly after the diagnosis of a serious illness, the death of a loved one, or a trauma. Many get angry because they believe that God is responsible for the negative event.
Even those who don’t believe in God or question His existence report more anger than those who believe. Younger people and whites are also among those who were more commonly angry at God during bad life events. Common feelings when receiving bad news is that of betrayal or abandonment by God.
People who are more religious, in particular Protestant Christians, report being less likely to get angry and more likely to think that the event serves a purpose, such as promoting strength and resilience.
Exline said that the anger that people feel toward God often parallels the anger that people may feel in other personal relationships. As with other relationships, people can feel angry at God, yet still love Him, she explains.
Generally, though, the anger toward God is fleeting. "For a lot of people, they'll have a flash of anger at God, and then their coping resources kick in," says Exline, but "if the anger is something they can't resolve, if they're having trouble coping or minimizing the anger and can't make sense out of what's going on, they may need to seek additional help."
High levels of anger can increase the risk for heart disease, finds previous research conducted at the Harvard School of Public Health. This is true for both people who actively express their anger and for those who suppress the feelings of rage. Anger and hostility activate the stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol which speed up the heart and increase blood pressure. This can cause wear and tear on the heart and blood vessels and speed up the process of atherosclerosis.
Anger can also lead to depression and withdrawal. “If you’re angry with God and you stop going to church, you’re letting your anger stop you from doing something that’s been of value to you,” says psychologist Simon Rego, who was not part of the study but discussed his reaction to the research on MSN Health.
Exline notes that many people are ashamed of this anger, especially those who are highly religious and believe they should only focus on the positive side of religious life, and may not receive adequate treatment or support. Overcoming anger toward God may require some of the same steps needed to resolve other anger issues.
She encourages those who feel angry about a traumatic or disappointing event in their lives to see a psychologist who is comfortable discussing spiritual issues, a clergy member, or other spiritual support person. “People who feel angry toward God need to reassured that they are not alone.”
Exline, J. J., Park, C. L., Smyth, J. M., & Carey, M. P. (in press). Anger toward God: Social-cognitive predictors, prevalence, and links with adjustment to bereavement and cancer. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.