Monday, November 11, 2019

Yes, you can be angry with god and yet not be sinning. But you may be idol worshipping.

I hear in confessions so often something that many people grapple with in life.  It’s very common, and it plagues both men and women of all ages.  Many find themselves giving in to this, and when they do, it fills them with guilt.  No, it’s not one of those “loin matters”, if that’s where your mind is going. It is this - when people get angry with God.

At the heart of this sin lies the fact that we know that as Catholic Christians, we should be loving God with all our heart, mind and will.  And if that is so, then loving anyone, including God, should exclude wanting to have negative thoughts or feelings about the person, and when these sentiments arise in one’s heart, it does seem that one has done wrong.  If this person is not any person but God, the ultimate person and creator of all beings, then by extrapolation, this could well constitute the ultimate sin.  At least that’s the logic that seems to be going on in the minds of the penitents who feel guilty for having had these feelings.

Let’s be clear that as far as Canon Law is concerned, for something that qualifies as a mortal sin, it has to fulfill these criteria:
1)    It has to be a serious matter (e.g. abortion)
2)   The person needs to be aware that the action is sinful (full knowledge)
3)   The person, with this full knowledge, commits the action with full intent and full freedom

Of course, those criteria apply to sins that are ‘mortal’, meaning sins that are serious enough to cut ourselves off from God’s grace.  (No, God doesn’t cut us off.  Rather, it is we who cut ourselves off from God).  But even for sins that aren’t mortal, but venial (where our relationship with God is injured and weakened to some degree), there isn’t any mention or reference to feelings, because feelings themselves have no morality in and of themselves.  They are not actions that we willfully do, and these include those many random thoughts that can flash through our minds when we are not actively engaging them in the day.  Feelings are not sins, and quite a lot of people are almost neurotic about confessing feelings.  Living this way limits very much our freedom in life, and God certainly wants us to live freely.  It’s what we do with our feelings that give it a moral texture and quality that can make us virtuous or sinful.

When one believes that one has sinned because one has found oneself being angry with God, I always like to clarify what is it that God has done to the penitent that has resulted in this anger targeted at God. Here are some common examples.

-      God has not answered my prayers even though I have been a good Catholic
-      God has made life so difficult for me
-      God hasn’t helped in my struggle with my addiction/bad habit
-      God is so slow to act, and I’m so tired of waiting

This list, let me assure you, is not exhaustive. There is a whole legion of other reasons people have been or are angry with God.  And for some, being just ‘angry’ is putting it mildly.  Each time I hear their explanations for their being livid, I share their pain, while at the same time, I mourn at their ignorance which they are blind to.

I like to begin by telling them that they have every right to feeling this way toward ‘God’, and that I too would be angry and even acrimonious toward ‘God’ if I were in their shoes.  But the sin I would be committing would not be harbouring ill-will toward God.  Rather, the real sin would be that of idol worship or the worshipping of a false God, simply because the ‘God’ that their anger or resentment is really targeted not at God as who he really is, but at a god that they have created in their minds. 

It is quite clear to my mind that for many of these people struggling with their notions of God, what they are really struggling with is mystery.  It is mystery that God can allow bad things to happen and that he values freedom far more than he wants to control people and the outcome of bad situations.  It is mystery that God takes so much time to have things unfold in life (to me, it is a greater mystery why the human heart is so addicted to speed and to measurable performances).  It is mystery that a lot of life’s deep virtues are learned and imbued through our struggles with failure, suffering, sin and even addictions. A lot of peoples’ false constructs of God result from insisting on him being a wish-granting genie rather than who he really is – mystery itself.

If a person has had the image of God as an elderly white-bearded whose existence is just to arbitrarily manipulate the lives of his creatures in a facetious way, making some people happy when he so wishes, and giving others a hard time with no good reason, and this person has never allowed that image of God to change, grow and mature as he went from childhood to adolescence, to being a youth, then a young adult and finally as an adult, this person’s God image has not really grown, but is quite literally retarded and stopped maturing since he was a pre-teen.  This ‘God’ doesn’t exist in reality, but only in his pre-teen mind. As such, the God he is having negative feelings toward and huge reservations about, is very much a construct and very far from God as he truly is.  Negative feelings against a self-constructed idol have no moral value. It would be like fabricating an image of a unicorn in one’s mind, believing it to be real, and because it cannot be corralled and controlled, becoming finally angry at it.  

In short, one cannot really be faulted for being angry at a self-constructed god.  But one may be idol-worshipping, which is something far more serious, as one has created an idol and have placed it on a pedestal whether to be worshipped or casting one’s anger onto.  

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