David Powlison on Psalmic Faith versus Venting Anger at God

No Psalm encourages the venting of hostile anger like the self-help books encourage. [Don’t censor your feelings and language; say it like you feel it so you won’t be a hypocrite].

In the supposed vent your anger psalms—for example, Psalm 44—what comes through is how faith in who God is and what he promises cries out when it is justly agitated. It’s not hostility; it’s a passionate cry for help. The writers essentially say, “Things are not going well. In fact, what’s happening is terrible. Where are your promises? Why are you so far away from our need? Your enemies—our enemies too! —are walking all over us. We are crying out to you and our dismay, hurt, complaint, upset, grief, grievance. Help us!” In Psalm 44 the sons of Korah are really upset at how bad circumstances are. They really want God to intervene. Their displeasure is the constructive displeasure of faith, however, not destructive raging. it’s needy, not dismissive. It’s hopeful, not hostile. It’s faith speaking out, not pride and self-will passing judgment. They yearn for the well-being of people whom God has promised to love, people who have entrusted themselves to his care.

The Psalms where faith is upset yearn for God’s name, goodness, and power to be publicly displayed. They yearn for wrongs to be made right. They yearn for him to be merciful to us. Such loving unhappiness and believing complaint yearns for the Lord, our only hope, to eliminate the sufferings we currently experience. The intensity of the complaint arises from the intensity of faith. It contains no cursing, no malevolence, no lies, no hostile belittling. It is an appeal for help, not a damning judgment. Psalmists become a dismayed because they know and trust that God is good, because they love God, and because they struggle to reconcile God’s promises with current affliction.

Psalmists move toward God and honest faith because they need him and are anguished about their circumstances. But people who are angry at God shove him away. They don’t believe in him or believe in his help. Psalmists want God’s glory, want evil to go away, groan and complain in their faith. And typically a psalmist’s words also show that he is aware of his own guilt and sin—something ignored by the self-help teaching. A complex awareness of our responsibility coexists with loathing the evil intentions of those who affect us. When the Bible teaches how to voice to stress to God, it teaches a cry of faith, not a roar of rage. The self-help teaching fails to help troubled people complain to a God they love.

From Good and Angry: Redeeming Anger, Irritation, Complaining, and Bitterness by David Powlison (New Growth, 2016), p. 229-230.


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