Forgiving the Forgiver

by Ann Sullivan

Being mad at God is one of the most unsatisfying activities I can think of. It’s like screaming for help with no voice or struggling to swim without arms or legs.

It’s hard enough to grieve a loss or face the failure of a dream. But finding a place to process our pain when there are no easy answers makes everything worse.

During one of my own stinging losses, I was desperate for somewhere to focus my wounded energy. I needed someone to blame. I needed someone to forgive.

But each time I ran through my list of potential suspects, I found myself coming up short. I knew that every person I had the right to be angry with had their own set of struggles to deal with. There was no one to blame, so my anger slowly morphed into despair.

Then, one day, it began to dawn on me who I was really angry with. God could have kept things from spiraling out of control, but He didn’t. And now I was bitter and left with one very troubling question; How do you forgive the Author of forgiveness? Would I have treated my own child the way He seemed to be treating me?

The songwriter of Psalm 73 lamented a similar question thousands of years ago. He had tried to be the good guy. He had tried to follow the rules. But life seemed out of balance. The good God he’d trusted seemed to have abandoned him, and he was struggling even more than those for whom God meant nothing.

He wrote in Psalm 73:2-3:

But as for me, my feet had almost stumbled, my steps had nearly slipped. For I was envious of the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.

Whatever pain the Psalmist was experiencing, bitterness was tugging at his heart. Why did he even bother to obey God? What was it all for? Verse 13 reads:

In vain have I kept my heart clean and washed my hands in innocence.

The writer’s pain became so overwhelming, he began distancing himself from God. And in that hollow space, he didn’t like the person he was becoming. Verses 21 & 22 read:

When my soul was embittered, when I was pricked in heart, I was brutish and ignorant; I was like a beast toward you.

Then, something incredible happened.

In the midst of his anger and disillusionment, the Psalmist had a moment of clarity. It was much like the one King Nebuchadnezzar had in Daniel chapter 4. The king had his own brush with insanity when he tried to control things God never asked him to. He too became like a wild beast, until he paused and looked heavenward. Only then could he say, “My reason returned to me” (Daniel 4:34).

The Psalmist struggled for control too. He needed to understand the order of things and to have his life boxed up neatly. It wasn’t until he humbled himself, like Nebuchadnezzar, and did the last thing depressed people want to do; he worshiped. Verses 16 & 17 read:

When I thought how to understand this, it seemed to me a wearisome task, until I went into the sanctuary of God.

In the presence of God, the songwriter gained a fresh perspective. Only then was he able to consider the possibilities of God’s sovereignty and how He weaves together the fabric of our lives with both our pleasure and pain. In verse 26, he says,

My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.

When we face adversity, we really only have two choices. We can turn toward God or we can turn away. Clearly, there are plenty of people who choose the latter, and this becomes the breeding ground for their greatest doubt.

Sometimes a person becomes a skeptic because of their narrowing vision. Sometimes it’s pride. But much of the atheism and agnosticism we see in the world today goes even deeper than that. It’s a response to pain that has turned into anger. It’s easier to believe God isn’t there than that he could be callous enough not to care.

But God is there and he does care. And our pain and anger doesn’t change that one bit.

In a world where we’ve been given a frightening amount of autonomy, God retains the right to reign. And when we learn how to invite him into our pain, he provides us with the moments of clarity we need to find forgiveness and move toward the restoration of our souls.

Ann Sullivan is an author, speaker, and blogger. Download her new free study guide for Permission to Doubt (Kregel). And watch for Ann’s next book on our universal search for contentment. Website: | Blog: