Children are not supposed to die before their parents. It’s out of normal order, which helps explain the depth of pain we parents feel. Fortunately, it’s also a rare event for most families. So it’s understandable that I get asked a lot of questions about dealing with the loss of a teenage son.
One of the most common questions I am asked is, “Do you ever get mad at God?”
It’s a fair question. The fact that I am asked that helps me appreciate how common it is for us to be angry at God for our losses and pain. But before I answer that question here, I have a few observations about anger.
First of all, anger itself is not inherently bad. Jesus was often angry at the religious leaders who cared more about the constraints of law rather than the need for grace and mercy. “And he looked around at them with anger, grieved at their hardness of heart” (Mark 3:5). The Bible tells us, “Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger” (Ephesians 4:26).
Secondly, ‘bad’ anger is based on where you direct it and how long you hold it.
Anger shouldn’t be directed at things. It should only be directed at sin and evil.
God said to Jonah, “Is it right for you to be angry about the plant?”
“It is,” he said. “And I’m so angry I wish I were dead.” (Jonah 4:9)
Anger shouldn’t be held for very long. Holding onto anger can be corrosive. And being angry at the wrong things for a prolonged period will actually corrupt our souls and destroy our lives.
But there is something even more dangerous: Anger towards God Himself. When something really bad happens to us, we are tempted to think that either God caused it or he should have prevented it. In either case, it’s His fault. As a young man, I spent a year of my life under the curse of that very deception.
Elijah was nineteen when he died. When I was that age, I became angry at God for a terrible breakup with a girl that I thought I loved deeply. I had asked God to bless the relationship, and in turn I would try to live for Him. From my distorted point of view, God didn’t keep His part of the bargain. By the end of that year I had reached rock bottom, feeling a bit like Jonah who was so angry he wanted to die. But God rescued me dramatically, and I surrendered my heart, my bad attitude and my future. It was then that I met Melanie, and the rest is history.
So, have I been angry at God over the loss of our son? No. The lesson of that mistake was long ago tattooed on my heart.
More importantly I remind myself that God is my only hope of surviving this experience and reuniting with Elijah in heaven. How crazy for me to reject the very One in whom I hope!
Most importantly, though, I know who is in charge of the future. What seems ‘bad’ for now grows into ‘good’ in the hands of the Creator. “And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.” (Romans 8:28).
That’s the ultimate anger management.
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