Skip to comments.“How Long O Lord!” A Meditation on the role of anger in prayer.
Posted on 04/10/2014 1:41:58 AM PDT by markomalley
Among the struggles that many face in their spiritual life is a struggle with being angry at times with God. The sources of this anger can be varied but tend to center on Gods seeming delay in answering prayers, the existence of evil and injustice in the world, which God seems to permit, or some more personal setback or trial in ones life.
The thought that God can prevent bad things, often leads to expectations that he should prevent them, and when such expectations are not met, resentments, disappointment, or anger can follow.
Sometimes our anger at God is obvious to us. But other times, it can take more subtle forms, such as depression or a kind of spiritual sadness, avoidance of God and spiritual things, a loss of hope, and a reduction in asking things of God at all in prayer. Sometimes too, we like to hide our anger at God by euphemisms such as saying we are simply disappointed, or frustrated.
But the reality is, at times we are angry at God, sometimes very angry. What to do about this anger?
God himself seems to say, over and over again in the Scriptures, that he wants us to speak to him about it, to tell him that we are angry, and pray out of this reality in our life.
God actually models this in the Scriptures. The book of Psalms is the great prayerbook that God gave to Israel. In the Psalms is enshrined every sort of human experience and emotion: joy, exultation, hope, gratitude; but also: dejection, hatred, despair, and yes, anger, even anger at God himself. God himself, through the Holy Spirit, authors the very prayers of the psalms and says to us in effect, that every human emotion is the stuff of prayer. He models for us how to pray out of our experiences of joy and gratitude, but also despair and anger. God says whatever youre going through, make it the focus of your prayer.
And thus, if we are angry at God, God tells us, and models for us how we should speak to him about our anger. And he does not ask us to mince words, or to minimize, or even to speak politely.
One of the most common expressions of human anger towards God in the scriptures is in what might be called the usquequo verses. (pronounced ooz- qay-quo) The Latin word usquequo is most literally translated how long? And thus, in the Psalms, and other versus of Scripture will often come the question How long oh Lord ?
No while the word usquequo can simply be a straightforward question, as in, How long till lunch? But the adverb usquequo usually has more of a rhetorical form wherein one asks how long? in a plaintive and exasperated tone, as in How much longer!? As if to say, Oh Lord, why do you let this awful situation go on so long, where are you!? Thus, the word bespeaks not only disappointment, but even a certain sense of injustice that God would care so little that he would allow such terrible things to go on for so long.
God knows that we feel this way sometimes. And even if our intellect can supply some possible reasons that God would allow bad things to go on, or that He is not entirely to blame for the mess that were in, still it is clear that feelings often are not satisfied with any rational explanation and simply cry out how long old Lord!?
God knows this about us, he knows that we are feeling this, and wants us to speak with him directly about it, too articulated, to pray out of this experience.
Lets sample some of these texts:
- Psalm 13:1-2 How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and day after day have sorrow in my heart? How long will my enemy triumph over me?
- Psalm 6: 3-6 My soul is in deep anguish. How long, Lord, how long? Turn, Lord, and deliver me, save me because of your unfailing love. Among the dead no one proclaims your name. Who praises you from the grave? I am worn out from my groaning.
- Psalm 10:1-2 Why, Lord, do you stand far off? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble? In his arrogance the wicked man hunts down the weak, who are caught in the schemes he devises.
- Psalm 35:17 How long, Lord, will you look on? Rescue me from their ravages, my precious life from these lions.
- Psalm 44:24 Awake, Lord! Why do you sleep? Rouse yourself! Do not reject us forever. Why do you hide your face and forget our misery and oppression?
- Psalm 89:46 How long, Lord? Will you hide yourself forever? How long will your wrath burn like fire? Remember how fleeting is my life. For what futility you have created all humanity! Lord, where is your former great love, which in your faithfulness you swore to David?
- Psalm 79:5-7 How long, Lord? Will you be angry forever? How long will your jealousy burn like fire? Pour out your wrath on the nations that do not acknowledge you, on the kingdoms that do not call on your name; for they have devoured Jacob and devastated his homeland.
- Psalm 74:10-11 How long will the enemy mock you, God? Will the foe revile your name forever? Why do you hold back your hand, your right hand?
- Psalm 94:2-3 Rise up, Judge of the earth; pay back to the proud what they deserve. How long, Lord, will the wicked, how long will the wicked be jubilant?
- Lam 5:20 Why do you always forget us? Why do you forsake us so long?
- Habakkuk 1:1-4 How long, Lord, must I call for help, but you do not listen? Or cry out to you, Violence! but you do not save? Why do you make me look at injustice? Why do you tolerate wrongdoing? Destruction and violence are before me; there is strife, and conflict abounds. Therefore the law is paralyzed, and justice never prevails. The wicked hem in the righteous, so that justice is perverted.
- Job 7:18-19 Will you never look away from me, or let me alone even for an instant? If I have sinned, what have I done to you, you who see everything we do? Why have you made me your target? Have I become a burden to you? Why do you not pardon my offenses and forgive my sins? For I will soon lie down in the dust; you will search for me, but I will be no more.
Thus we see modeled for us that God desires us to speak what we are feeling, to give voice to our anger. Why is this. First of all he knows already that we have it and does not desire our prayer to be suppressed, pretentious or phony. If anger is the elephant in the room lets admit it is in the open and not pretend its not there. Secondly in enunciating our emotions we often help vent or at least ameliorate their power. Suppressed feelings often become depression if they are given respect and a voice.
Mysteriously God does not often answer the why implicit in our groans. But he is able and most willing to hear them. And, sometimes it is our very groans that yield the desired relief. Scripture says, I love the Lord, for he heard my voice; he heard my cry, my appeal. He turned his ear to me, and thus, I will call on him as long as I live (Ps 116:1-2), or again, Those who sow with tears will reap with songs of joy (Psalm 126:5). And St Augustine says, More things are wrought in prayer by sighs and tears, than by many words. (Ltr to Proba, 2) Thus, our groans and soulful protests reach Gods ears.
At other times God gives a Job-like answer (cf Job 38 ff) wherein he reminds of of our feeble capacity to see the whole picture when we protest suffering or evil. And thus his answer is a kind of non-answer wherein he reminds us that our minds are very small.
But nevertheless the point here is that God instructs us to ask, to protest, How Long as a sign of His understanding, even respect for our anger and exasperation.
It is interesting also, to note that God often times takes up the compliant How long as well! It ought not surprise us that God is also at times exasperated with us, and in a kind of anthropomorphic turning of the tables he too laments How long! Here are some of those texts:
So it would seem that God is willing to admit to prayer both our anger and also to speak of his. When there is love there is also bound to be some anger for things matter when we love. God would rather have us speak openly and honestly of our anger toward him. He also, and often discloses his anger toward us. In this matter vituperative anger, name calling and cursing is in no way commended, but only honest airing of the fact of our anger and the basis for for it.
There is an old saying, No tension, no change. The simple fact is that God allows some tension in our lives and our relationship with him. One reason is that tension helps keep our attention and evokes change. In instructing us to cry out How long O Lord ?! the Lord invites us to take up the energy and tension of our anger and make it the stuff of our prayer. As such, our prayer is more honest, and it soars on the wings of passion. It keeps us engaged and energized and fuels a kind of insistence and perseverance in our prayer.
Within proper bounds, and humility presumed, anger in prayer has a proper place and God himself both prescribes it and models it for us in the Book of Psalms and other texts. Be angry, but sin not. (Eph 4:26)
This video is rather long, But it is a wonderful musical setting of Henry Desmarets (1661-1741) Usquequo Domine. Put it on in background to play.
The translation of Psalm 13 sung here is as follows:
How long O Lord will thou forget me, must thy look still be turned away from me? Each day brings a fresh load of care, fresh misery to my heart; must I be ever the sport of my enemies? Look upon me, O Lord my God, and listen to me; give light to these eyes, before they close in death; do not let my enemies claim the mastery, my persecutors triumph over my fall! I cast myself on thy mercy; soon may this heart boast of redress granted, sing in praise of the Lord, my benefactor.
Msgr Pope ping
.....”God does not ask us to mince words, or to minimize, or even to speak politely”....
Your post certainly caused me to consider Mark0malley....Though my relationship with God is very open and honest in pretty much all areas...the idea of being angry “with” God is probably the hardest to bring before Him.... Because it’s often difficult to admit to oneself you’re actually angry to begin with and it’s not always easy to identify either.....
..... It seems to hide in the shadows....underneath all the other “stuff” we think is the problem. Rather like a bad tooth we treat with all kinds of preparations when the root is decaying and the tooth needs to be extracted.
I’ll be following this thread to see what’s being said....thanks for posting it.
That's a good observation. It can be hard to tell whether one's condition is detachment, resignation to God's will ... or despair.
It so good to quote the Psalms in this area and acknowledge that the writer(s) very often had issues with God and their own anger towards what they saw happening around them. You may also find that at the end of most of these angry prayers they would say things like “Yet I will trust in You (or the Lord)”. The writer did not remain angry but through their prayer came to the realization that all that remained was to trust in the Lord that the anger was either misplaced or that they could not see the whole plan and that trust was necessary.
because there is no god.
>>> because there is no god.
You don’t believe that.
Atheism is the ultimate form of anger against God.
Thank You for posting this.
One of the things I learned along the way is that feelings aren’t right or wrong, they just are.
But it is what we do with those feelings that is right or wrong.
I didn’t read the whole article so will go back and do that.
But transposing then......anger isn’t right or wrong; it’s what we do with that anger that is right or wrong.
I prayed like this as I experienced five deaths in my family. How long, O Lord, are you going to keep me following this trail of grieving?
It led me down a dark valley of despair and depression, but God also led be back up out of that valley through a wonderful peer ministry of those who have lost loved ones.
Check out Beginning Experience — a weekend retreat for those who have suffered the loss of a loved one. Click on my name for the link. There may be weekends held in your area.
sorry,,,here it is
Actually if an athiest doesn’t believe in God then who do they think their arguing with? If he is not...then what’s their beef? Their very battle depicts itself depicts that God ‘is’.