Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Fighting Anger with Faith

“Cory, you need to stop being angry with God.” These were the words of advice that a mentor gave me a few months ago. Over the past few months, I’ve become increasingly convinced that my mentor was right. I’ve been angry with God. I’ve begun to see how living in this anger impacts my life. And I’ve seen how crucial it is that we live not by emotions or our circumstances but by my faith in Jesus Christ.

In the movie, “Gran Torino,” Clint Eastwood plays a Korean War veteran who is facing life after the death of his wife. Following his wife’s death, Eastwood’s character is irritable, argumentative, blasphemous, and self-righteous. He is angry because the world is not as he thinks it should be. His wife is gone. No one can get anything right: his children and grandchildren are dishonoring; his neighborhood has become run down (or at least it has in his mind); even the priest who comforted his dying wife through her last days doesn’t have enough life experience (in his own mind) to provide him with any encouragement or counsel.

In watching this film, I was struck by how much of myself I saw in Eastwood’s character. While I haven’t acted out my anger in the same ways portrayed by Eastwood’s character, I can see in the character’s actions the intentions of my own angry heart. I’ve become angry with family and friends. Heather and I have battled self-pity since Micah’s death. Even when I know that people mean well, I have not exercised the patience necessary to give them the benefit of the doubt. Like the Eastwood character, I’ve become self-righteous and indignant about the shortcomings of others.

But for the work of the Holy Spirit in my life, I would continue in a spiral of anger and self-pity. In a discipleship journal for Campus Crusade for Christ, Ron and Della Proctor say, “Faith is believing that the Bible is true regardless of circumstances, emotions or cultural trends.” Having the gift of faith in Christ truly has significant practial implications to one's grief.

In 1 Thessalonians 5:18 Paul says, “Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” Notice what the verse does NOT say. Paul does not say “Give thanks FOR all circumstances.” He says “give thanks IN all circumstances.” We can only give thanks if the reason for our thanksgiving is completely independent from our circumstances. We are not called to thank God that Micah died; we are called, however, to thank God that he is somewhere moving, even through this terrible set of circumstances. We are called to give thanks to a sovereign God.

Among other things, this means that we must remove any self-pity from our lives. Self-pity is sinful because it shows that we love circumstances over our relationship with God. It also means that we feel that we “deserve” to find ourselves in certain circumstances, such as having children, and that God is not giving us what is “rightfully” ours. Instead, we should live lives of thanksgiving because of how God is using our circumstances to make us more like Him.

This also means that we must continually look to God, for God's help is always there, "an ever present help in times of trouble" (Psalm 46:1). Hebrews 4:12 says that the Word is “sharper than any doubled-edged sword…it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” How a person responds to deep grief demonstrates what is truly going on in their heart—that is, what a person truly values. To my dismay, I’ve found that my responses of anger and self-pity have shown how much I have valued my family, my job and my circumstances even over my relationship with God. The double-edged sword has cut through my "life motives"--and I have found that my own life motives are far too tied up in my own circumstances. If who I am is defined by my circumstances, then in many instances life would not be worth living.

But thanks be to God, for he has shown us a way, in Jesus Christ, both in life and at death. In Romans 15, Paul says, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” Romans 15:13. Praise be to God, for through the Holy Spirit's power he has made a way out of anger and self-pity.


  1. So much wisdom here, Cory. I so appreciate your authenticity.

    "Self-pity is sinful because it shows that we love circumstances over our relationship with God."

    That really struck a cord with me, in a good and challenging way.

  2. Cory, I love you and I am praying for you my brother. Rom 8:28-39. You are more than a conqueror. The beauty of Christ is that He "is at the right hand of God interceding for us." (v34), especially at those times when we feel as if we don't/can't 'measure up'. Blessings.

  3. Cory, my first reaction to your words were "don't be so hard on yourself, for goodness sakes," but upon thinking about it, your wisdom here is so hard-won and valuable, I encourage everyone to wrap their arms around it and hold on for life. I, for one, am re-thinking my life's circumstances in this context. Thank you, Cory, and thank God.