An expert says that almost everyone experiences anger toward God at some point in their lives.
The notion of being angry with God goes back to ancient days. Such personal struggles are not new, but Case Western Reserve University psychologist Julie Exline began looking at "anger at God" in a new way.
"Many people experience anger toward God. Even people who deeply love and respect God can become angry. Just as people become upset or angry with others, including loved ones, they can also become angry with God," said Exline.
Exline has researched anger toward God over the past decade, conducting studies with hundreds of people, including college students, cancer survivors and grief-stricken family members.
She said anger toward God often coincides with deaths, illnesses, accidents or natural disasters. Yet anger is not limited to traumatic situations. It can also surface when people experience personal disappointments, failures, or interpersonal hurts.
Some people see God as ultimately responsible for such events, and they become angry when they see God's intentions as cruel or uncaring. They might think that God abandoned, betrayed, or mistreated them, explained Exline.
Exline noted that it could be difficult for people to acknowledge their anger toward God. Many people are ashamed and don't want to admit their feelings, she said.
In particular, people who are highly religious may believe that they should focus only on the positive side of religious life.
"But religion and spirituality are like other domains of life, such as work and relationships. They bring important benefits, but they can bring difficulties as well. Anger with God is one of those struggles," she said.
Exline and colleagues found that Protestants, African Americans, and older people tend to report less anger at God; people who do not believe in God may still harbor anger; and anger toward God is most distressing when it is frequent, intense, or chronic.
vercoming anger at God may require some of the same steps needed to resolve other anger issues, she said.
"People may benefit from reflecting more closely on the situation and how they see God's role in it," she added.
The findings were reported in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.