Recently I said those words to a group of several hundred people: “It is never, ever, ever, right to be angry with God.” There was an incredulous look on many faces. This was not landing well. Clearly many did not agree.
Some were obviously tracking with me, but others looked baffled. I have given a lot of thought to those baffled looks since then. What assumptions were out there that made this statement so difficult to accept? To me nothing could be more obvious. Why is it then so confusing to some others?
There are two possible assumptions that may be common in many heads today, which would make people balk at what I said.
First, many assumed that feels are not right or wrong, they are neutral. So to say that anger (whether at God or anybody else) is “not right” is like saying sneezing is not right. You don’t apply the labels right and wrong to sneezing. It just happens to you. That is the way many people think about feelings: they just happen to you. Therefore, they are not moral or immoral; they are neutral. So for me to say that it is never right to be angry with God is put the feelings of anger in a category where it doesn’t belong, the category of morality.
This kind of thinking about feelings is one of the reasons there is so much shallow Christianity. We think the only things that have moral significance in the world are acts of reflection and volition. And we think feelings like desire and delight and frustration and anger are not acts of volition, but waves that break on the shore of our souls with no moral significance. Small wonder that many people do not earnestly seek to be transformed at the level of feelings, but only of “choices.” That makes for a superficial saint (at best).
This assumption is contrary to what the Bible teaches. in the Bible, many feelings are treated as morally good and many as morally bad. What makes them good or bad is how they relate to God. If they show that God is true and valuable, they are good, and if they suggest that GOd is false or foolish or evil, they are bad. For example, delight in the LORD is not neutral, it is commanded (Psalm 37:4). Therefore it is good. But to “take pleasure in wickedness” is wrong (2 Thessalonians 2:12), because it signifies that sin is more desirable than God, which is not true.
It’s not the same with anger. Anger at sin is good (Mark 3:5), but anger at goodness is sin. That is why it is never right to be angry with God. He is always and only good, no matter how strange and painful His ways with us. Anger toward God signifies that He is bad or weak or cruel or foolish. None of those is true, and all of them dishonor Him. Therefore it is never right to be angry at God. When Jonah and Job were angry with God, Jonah was rebuked by God (Jonah 4:9) and Job repented in dust and ashes (Job 42:6)
The second assumption that may cause people to stumble over the statement it is never right to be angry with God is the assumption that God really does things that ought to make us angry at Him. But, as painful as His providence can be, we should trust that he is good, not get angry with Him. That would be like getting angry at the surgeon who cuts us. It might be right if the surgeon slips and makes a mistake. But God never slips.
I have learned over the years that when a person uses the words, “Is it right to be angry at God?” he may be asking a very different question. He may be asking, “Is it right to express anger at God?” These are not the same question, and the answer is not always the same.
The question usually arises in times of great suffering and loss. Disease threatens to undo all your dream. Death takes a precious child from your family. Utterly unexpected desertion and divorce shake the foundations of your world. At these times people can become very angry at God.
Is this right? To answer this question we might, perhaps, ask the angry person, it is always right to get angry at God? In other words, can a person get angry at God for every reason, and still be right? Was it right, for example, for Jonah to be angry at God’s mercy on Nineveh? “God relented of the disaster that he had said he would do to them, and he did not do it. But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was angry” (Jonah 3:10-4:1) I assume the answer would be no. We should not get angry at God for just any reason.
But then we would ask: Which deeds of God should make us angry with Him, and which should not? Now this is harder to answer. The truth begins to close in on the angry heart.
What about the things that displease us? Are these the acts of God that justify our anger at Him? Is it the acts of God that hurt us? “I kill and I make alive; I wound and I heal; and there is none that can deliver out of my hand” (Deuteronomy 32:39). Are these the acts that justify us in directing our anger at God? Or is it His choice to permit the devil to harass and torture us? “The LORD said to Satan, ‘Behold, Job is in your hand; only spare his life.’ So Satan went out from the presence of the LORD and struck Job with loathsome sores from the sole of his foot to the crown of his head” (Job 2:6-7). Does the decision of God to permit Satan to hurt us and our children justify our anger at Him?
Or come at it from the other side. What is anger? The common definition is: “An intense emotional state induced by displeasure” (Merriam-Webster). But there is an ambiguity in this definition. You can be “displeased” by a thing or by a person. Anger at a thing does not contain indignation at a choice or an act. We simply don’t like the effect of the thing: the broken clutch, or the grain of sand that just blew in our eye, or rain on our picnic. But when we get angry at a person, we are displeased with a choice they made and act they performed. Anger at a person always implies strong disapproval. if you are angry with me, you think I have done something I should not have done.
This is why being angry at God is never right. It is wrong - always wrong - to disapprove of God for what He does and permits. “Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?” (Genesis 18:25). It is arrogant for finite, sinful creatures to disapprove of God for what He does and permits. We may weep over the pain. We may be angry at sin and Satan. But God is always righteous in what He does and what he permits. “Yes, O Lord God, the Almighty, true and righteous are Your judgments” (Revelation 16:7)
But many who say that it is right to be angry with God really mean it is right to express anger at God. When they hear me say it is wrong to be angry with God, they think I mean “stuff your feelings and be a hypocrite.” That’s not what I mean. I mean it is always wrong to disapprove of God in any of His judgments.
But if we do experience the sinful emotion of anger at God, what then? Shall we add the sin of hypocrisy to the sin of anger? No. If we feel it, we should confess it to God. he knows it anyway. he sees our hearts. If anger at God is in our heart, we may as well tell Him so, and then tell Him we are sorry, and ask Him to help us put it away by faith in His goodness and wisdom.
When Jesus died on the cross for our sins, he removed forever the wrath of God from all who trust Him. God’s disposition to us now is entirely mercy, even when severe and disciplinary (Romans 8:1). Therefore, doubly shall those in Christ turn away from the terrible specter of anger at God. We may cry, in agony, “My God, My God, where are you?” But we will follow soon with, “Into your hands I commit my spirit.”
So I say it again: It is never right to be angry with God. But if you sin in this way, don’t compoud it by hypocrisy. Tell Him the truth and repent.
- John Piper
As you may have already heard in the sermon from March 27-28, the elders graciously approved on March 22 a leave of absence that will take me away from Bethlehem from May 1 through December 31, 2010. We thought it might be helpful to put an explanation in a letter to go along with the sermon.
I asked the elders to consider this leave because of a growing sense that my soul, my marriage, my family, and my ministry-pattern need a reality check from the Holy Spirit. On the one hand, I love my Lord, my wife, my five children and their families first and foremost; and I love my work of preaching and writing and leading Bethlehem. I hope the Lord gives me at least five more years as the pastor for preaching and vision at Bethlehem.
But on the other hand, I see several species of pride in my soul that, while they may not rise to the level of disqualifying me for ministry, grieve me, and have taken a toll on my relationship with Noël and others who are dear to me. How do I apologize to you, not for a specific deed, but for ongoing character flaws, and their effects on everybody? I’ll say it now, and no doubt will say it again, I’m sorry. Since I don’t have just one deed to point to, I simply ask for a spirit of forgiveness; and I give you as much assurance as I can that I am not making peace, but war, with my own sins.
Noël and I are rock solid in our commitment to each other, and there is no whiff of unfaithfulness on either side. But, as I told the elders, “rock solid” is not always an emotionally satisfying metaphor, especially to a woman. A rock is not the best image of a woman’s tender companion. In other words, the precious garden of my home needs tending. I want to say to Noël that she is precious to me in a way that, at this point in our 41-year pilgrimage, can be said best by stepping back for a season from virtually all public commitments.
No marriage is an island. For us this is true in two senses. One is that Noël and I are known inside-out by a few friends at Bethlehem—most closely by our long-time colleagues and friends David and Karin Livingston, and then by a cluster of trusted women with Noël and men with me. We are accountable, known, counseled, and prayed for. I am deeply thankful for a gracious culture of transparency and trust among the leadership at Bethlehem.
The other way that our marriage is not an island is that its strengths and defects have consequences for others. No one in the orbit of our family and friends remains unaffected by our flaws. My prayer is that this leave will prove to be healing from the inside of my soul, through Noël’s heart, and out to our children and their families, and beyond to anyone who may have been hurt by my failures.
The difference between this leave and the sabbatical I took four years ago is that I wrote a book on that sabbatical (What Jesus Demands from the World). In 30 years, I have never let go of the passion for public productivity. In this leave, I intend to let go of all of it. No book-writing. No sermon preparation or preaching. No blogging. No Twitter. No articles. No reports. No papers. And no speaking engagements. There is one stateside exception—the weekend devoted to the Desiring God National Conference combined with the inaugural convocation of Bethlehem College and Seminary in October. Noël thought I should keep three international commitments. Our reasoning is that if she could go along, and if we plan it right, these could be very special times of refreshment together.
The elders have appointed a group to stay in touch and keep me accountable for this leave. They are David Mathis, Jon Bloom, Tom Steller, Sam Crabtree, Jon Grano, Tim Held, Tony Campagna, and Kurt Elting-Ballard. Five of these have walked with Noël and me over the last two months, helping us discern the wisdom, scope, and nature of this leave. They brought the final recommendation to the elders on March 22.
I asked the elders not to pay me for this leave. I don’t feel it is owed to me. I know I am causing more work for others, and I apologize to the staff for that. Not only that, others could use similar time away. Most working men and women do not have the freedom to step back like this. The elders did not agree with my request. Noël and I are profoundly grateful for this kind of affection. We will seek the Lord for how much of your financial support to give back to the church, to perhaps bear some of the load.
Personally, I view these months as a kind of relaunch of what I hope will be the most humble, happy, fruitful five years of our 35 years at Bethlehem and 46 years of marriage. Would you pray with me to that end? And would you stand by your church with all your might? May God make these eight months the best Bethlehem has ever known. It would be just like God to do the greatest things when I am not there. “Neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth” (1 Corinthians 3:7).
I love you and promise to pray for you every day.
© Desiring God
This is the second post in a series of twelve. The content comes from “Twelve Appeals to Prosperity Preachers” found in the new edition of Let the Nations Be Glad.
The apostle Paul warned against the desire to be rich. And by implication, he warned against preachers who stir up the desire to be rich instead of helping people get rid of it. He warned, “Those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs” (1 Timothy 6:9-10).
These are very serious words, but they don’t seem to find an echo in the preaching of the prosperity gospel. It is not wrong for the poor to want measures of prosperity so that they have what they need and can be generous and can devote time and energy to Christ-exalting tasks other than scraping to get by. It is not wrong to seek Christ for help in this quest. He cares about our needs (Matthew 6:33).
But we all—poor and rich—are constantly in danger of setting our affections (1 John 2:15-16) and our hope (1 Timothy 6:17) on riches rather than Christ. This “desire to be rich” is so strong and so suicidal that Paul uses the strongest language to warn us. My appeal is that prosperity preachers would do the same.
- John Piper
This is the first post in a series of twelve. The content comes from “Twelve Appeals to Prosperity Preachers” found in the new edition of Let the nations Be Glad.
Jesus said, “How difficult it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” His disciples were astonished, as many in the “prosperity” movement should be. So Jesus went on to raise their astonishment even higher by saying, “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” They responded in disbelief: “Then who can be saved?” Jesus says, “With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God” (Mark 10:23-27).
This means that their astonishment was warranted. A camel can’t go through the eye of a needle. This is not a metaphor for something requiring great effort or humble sacrifice. It can’t be done. We know this because Jesus said, Impossible! That was his word, not ours. “With man it is impossible.” The point is that the heart-change required is something man can’t do for himself. God must do it—“… but [it is] not [impossible] with God.”
We can’t make ourselves stop treasuring money above Christ. But God can. That is good news. And that should be part of the message that prosperity preachers herald before they entice people to become more camel-like. Why would a preacher want to preach a gospel that encourages the desire to be rich and thus confirms people in their natural unfitness for the kingdom of God?
- John Piper
Stole this from Pastor Joshua Harris.
Dr. John Piper nails it home. Of the 4, “To Prosperity Preachers,” this one has been the most powerful for me, and I highly recommend you read this one. It is challenging and humbling.
This is the fourth post in a series of twelve. The content comes from “Twelve Appeals to Prosperity Preachers” found in the new edition of Let the Nations Be Glad.
Getting rich is not what work is for. Paul said we should not steal. The alternative was hard work with our own hands. But the main purpose was not merely to hoard or even to have. The purpose was “to have in order to give.”
“Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need” (Ephesians 4:28). This is not a justification for being rich in order to give more. It is a call to make more and keep less so you can give more. There is no reason why a person who prospers more and more in his business should increase the lavishness of his lifestyle indefinitely. Paul would say, Cap your expenditures and give the rest away.
I can’t determine your “cap.” But in all the texts we are looking at in this series, there is an impulse toward simplicity and lavish generosity, not lavish possessions. When Jesus said, “Sell your possessions, and give to the needy” (Luke 12:33), he seemed to imply not that the disciples were wealthy and could give from their overflow. It seems they had so few liquid assets that they had to sell something in order to have something to give.
Why would preachers want to encourage people to think that they should possess wealth in order to be a lavish giver? Why not encourage them to keep their lives more simple and be an even more lavish giver? Would that not add to their generosity a strong testimony that Christ, and not possessions, is their treasure?
- Dr. John Piper
Celibacy is where I remain, LORD Willing, but it is beautiful to read about such marriages. I encourage and challenge you all to read the entire blog, I understand it is a bit longer than other one’s, but it will be worth your time and read.
Loving headship by the husband and joyful submission by the wife are the top two keys that the Bible gives for marriage. Take a look:
Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands. Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her… This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church (Eph. 5:22-25, 32).
Marriage stands for something huge. It models the essence of the gospel. God designed marriage as a living drama of how Christ and the church relate to each other. We have the privilege of fulfilling these roles of loving headship and joyful submission to reflect something glorious. Let’s take a closer look at these roles:
Ashleigh expresses her submission to me through her inclination to support my leadership and initiatives within the constraints of obedience to Christ. Her submission is not the removal of her opinion and intelligence from our marriage, nor does it result in her playing a lesser role in our marriage. Here is a real-time example: last night I mishandled a situation with my 11-year-old son, Jack. As I was busy mishandling it, Ashleigh was giving me verbal and body language indicators to help me adjust my approach. But I thought I knew better.
Twenty minutes later she returned to chat to me and, with an attitude of deference, made a compelling case for Jack’s side of the argument, which resulted in me climbing down, apologizing, and modeling the art of apology to Jack! Do you see what had happened? Even when she disagreed with me she maintained an honouring demeanour, but her submissive bias was still potent in influencing me and shaping family life.
PJ tries to lead me in a loving, serving, and confident manner—like Jesus loves the church. It is not about being authoritarian, autocratic, domineering, bossy, or abusive. It is simply Christ-like servant leadership, and it is a pleasure to submit to this type of leadership (mostly!) as I know that he has my best at heart. But more than that, I know that my submission honours God.
My biggest submission struggle in recent years was agreeing to relocate to Johannesburg to plant our church. To be honest, I felt the beaches of Mauritius needed a church more than Jo’burg, and I was willing, definitely willing, to lay down my life to take the gospel to that tropical island. But PJ felt it was Jo’burg, and so I needed to submit to his headship.
Submission is dead easy when you agree! We firmly believe with John Piper, who wrote:
Piper goes on to say that we are now involved “not in the dismantling of the original, created order of loving headship and willing submission, but a recovery of it from the ravages of sin.” What a privilege!