If you’ve got issues with the man upstairs, take a number. According to new research, many people report feeling anger at God at some point in their lives.
Case Western Reserve University psychologist Julie Exline has been researching anger toward God for the past 10 years, conducting studies with hundreds of people, believers and non-believers alike.
While people often feel angry toward God following some kind of traumatic event, like a death, illness or natural disaster, it can also surface following more mundane personal disappointments or failures. Some people see God as ultimately responsible when things go wrong, and they become angry, thinking God abandoned, betrayed or mistreated them, Exline says.
According to her findings, some atheists and agnostics report experiencing anger at God as part of their past history. Her research also found that Protestants, African-Americans and older people tend to report less anger at God.
She notes that it can be hard for people to acknowledge negative spiritual feelings, particularly for highly religious people, who may believe they should only focus on the positive side of religious life.
But religion and spirituality are like other parts of life, including work and relationships, which can be challenging as well as rewarding, according to Exline. “Anger with God is just one of those struggles,” she says.
Overcoming anger at God may require some of the same steps taken to resolve other earthly anger issues. People may benefit from reflecting on the situation that triggered the anger and how God fits in, Exline suggests. “For example, they may become less angry if they decide that God was not actually responsible for the upsetting event, or if they can see how God has brought some meaning or benefit from a painful situation,” she says.
People who feel angry toward God also need to be reassured that they are not alone. Many individuals experience such struggles, according to Exline. “Even people who deeply love and respect God can become angry,” she says. “Just as people become upset or angry with others, including loved ones, they can also become angry with God.”
Exline and her colleagues report their results in the new issue of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.