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Never Blame God

How His Sovereignty Relates to Our Suffering

You are not the first Christian to have felt angry at God. And you will not be the last to feel the urge to blame him.

We Christians can be prone, in our pain, to point a finger and raise a fist at heaven. If we believe in God at all, we should believe he is bigger and stronger than we can even fathom. Our Bibles are filled with what we might call “big God” verses. We’re told God does whatever he pleases (Psalm 115:3; 135:6), nothing happens outside his control (Lamentations 3:37–38; Job 2:10; Proverbs 16:33; Matthew 10:29), he will accomplish all his plans (Job 42:2; Isaiah 46:10; Daniel 4:35), and not even a rebellious human will can thwart him (Proverbs 21:1; Revelation 17:17). Even when others mean evil against us, God means it for good (Genesis 50:20). He is stronger than any threat against his children, and whatever he lovingly allows into our lives, he does so for our full and final good, even as it is indeed painful, not pleasant (Hebrews 12:11).

We talk about God bringing trials into our lives, and God testing us, and we should. “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness” (James 1:2–3). And yet we need to be careful, as our vision of his sovereignty expands, that we not attribute something to him in a way the Scriptures do not. James himself, sensing a possible misunderstanding of his powerful rally to count our trials as joy, wants to make sure we know God is not the dispenser of evil in the same way he is the giver of good. He stands sovereignly over both good and evil, but he stands directly behind good, and indirectly, as it were, over evil.

God Himself Tempts No One

In the same opening section of his letter, and just eight sentences after his now famous charge to “count it all joy,” James makes his strong and pointed clarification. God is indeed sovereign over all our trials, and uses them for our good, such that we can count them (even as we don’t naturally feel them) as “all joy.” However, he says,

Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one. But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. (James 1:13–14)

In Greek, the noun trials in verse 2 and the verb tempt in verses 13–14 have the same root and make the connection clearer to the original readers, even as these words take on distinct meanings in their contexts (and so we translate them differently in English). Verse 2 emphasizes external testing, while verses 13–14 focus on internal temptation.

What James hopes to maintain for us in both our external trials and the resulting internal temptations is that God is never the one to blame. God is indeed sovereign over evil, but in such a way that he is never the author of evil. He is never the one to blame for our pain, but rather the sovereign one to whom we turn for help. That’s where James 1:5 comes in: “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.” God is the generous giver of wisdom for navigating our trials, not the one to blame for them, even as he reigns over them. James 1:16–17 has this very clarification in view:

Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers. Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.

God is indeed fully and utterly in control of his world, from the biggest details to the very smallest. He does bring suffering and pain into our lives — but never in such a way that he is the one to blame for our pain. He is the one who gives generously when we ask. He is the one to whom we reach out for help. He’s the giver of every good and perfect gift to whom we look for relief, not the one to whom we point our finger in our pain.

Suffering Tests Our Love for This World

As much as James may have the reputation today as a “wisdom teacher” who pens disconnected sayings in succession, a coherent train of thought that works together as a whole emerges here in his opening chapter. James 1:6–8, then, becomes clearer in light of his coming charge not to blame God in pain, but come to him for help.

But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.

Doubt here (as is often misunderstood) is not a humble crisis of faith, but arrogant anger at God. It’s not about doubting his existence as much as doubting his goodness in suffering. The basic sin James calls attention to in his letter is this double-mindedness (James 1:8; 4:8), which is a kind of halfhearted compromise with the world. It is “friendship with the world” and “enmity with God” (James 4:4). This is what suffering does: it tests our love for this world. Are we double-minded, trying to put our trust in both God and his world, or is he our greatest treasure?

The heart of such double-mindedness is blaming God for our pain while, at the same time, asking for his help and relief. But as James 1:17 clarifies, he is “the Father of Lights,” not the one responsible for the darkness.

God’s Asymmetrical Ways

The ways of God are not illogical, but they often defy the powers of logic — that is, they don’t strictly follow from human premises to human conclusions. The truth that God is sovereign over all things (Romans 11:36) does not mean that he is sovereign over good and evil in the same way. He stands directly behind every good gift (James 1:17) but not directly behind evil (James 1:13). He is the giver of every good and perfect gift, but never the author of evil.

One passage in the Bible where such asymmetry in God is captured so beautifully and powerfully, as a shining light in the midst of very great darkness, is Lamentations 3:32–33. In the bleakest days of the long, convoluted history of God’s people, when a foreign army has decimated the holy city, the prophet does not blame God for the devastation he has brought on Jerusalem. Rather, he remembers these glorious asymmetries that hold out hope for God’s help.

Though he cause grief, he will have compassion
   according to the abundance of his steadfast love;
for he does not afflict from his heart
   or grieve the children of men.

Though God does cause grief, he does not grieve from the heart. Though he does afflict, he does not do so from the heart. Is this just doublespeak? Or does it point powerfully to something deep in the heart of God that can help us know we can trust him, come what may?

His Mercy Is More

A similar sighting of such asymmetry comes in Romans 9:22–23. As the apostle Paul makes as plain in this chapter, God is sovereign over all things, including the eternal destiny of morally accountable humans — and yet that does not mean that God wills good and evil to equal ends.

What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory?

The point of the rhetorical question is plain: God’s display of wrath and demonstration of his power are penultimate actions. They always serve a greater purpose — in the universe and in his own heart: to make known the riches of his glory to those on whom he has mercy. As John Piper comments on these verses,

Though God does accomplish all things by the counsel of his will, he does not bring about all things in the same way. In the accomplishment of some things he employs intermediary agents perhaps. Or to put it another way, his heart is engaged differently in different acts, loving some deeds in themselves and inclining to others only as they are preferable in relation to greater ends (cf. Lamentations 3:33). If this is the case, Paul would be implying that not wrath but mercy is the greater, overarching goal for which God does all things. (Justification of God, 213–214)

Anger at God Is Always Sin

Once we’ve learned and embraced this pervasive biblical truth that God is sovereign over all things, Satan may take a new tactic in his assaults on our faith. The world, the flesh, and the devil may conspire in our suffering to tempt us to be angry at God for bringing or permitting pain and loss into our lives. Such anger at God is always sin in us in some form or fashion. It is never right to be angry with God. We never have just cause for blaming him. He is always in the right. In him is light, and no darkness at all (1 John 1:5).

Anger at sin is good (Mark 3:5), but anger at goodness is sin. That is why it is never right to be angry with God. He is always and only good, no matter how strange and painful his ways with us. Anger toward God signifies that he is bad or weak or cruel or foolish. None of those is true, and all of them dishonor him. Therefore, it is never right to be angry at God. When Jonah and Job were angry with God, Jonah received God’s rebuke (Jonah 4:9), and Job repented in dust and ashes (Job 42:6).

. . . [A]s painful as his providence can be, we should trust that he is good, not get angry with him. That would be like getting angry at the surgeon who cuts us. It might be right if the surgeon slips and makes a mistake. But God never slips. (Piper, It Is Never Right to Be Angry with God)

But if we do find, as many Christians have, that we have anger in our hearts toward God, let it be said loud and clear that we should not add the sin of hypocrisy to the sin of being angry at God. Let’s be honest about our sin, confess it as such, and not rally others to celebrate it. We should never cultivate or seek to stir up anger with God in ourselves or in anyone else. Anger can be righteous, but anger with God is never righteous. Our anger with God always betrays some fault in us, never in him.

Let’s Help Each Other

Such simple and complex truths play out week in and week out in our local churches and Christian communities. Let’s call each other to be the kind of people who both model and encourage right thinking and right feeling about God in our suffering. It is always sin to be angry with him, and he is never to blame in our pain. He “cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one.” Let’s never encourage people to be angry with God.

And let’s also seek to be people who extend ample grace to those who are in the throes of suffering. Christians do get angry with God. Often we will hear words for the wind (Job 6:26), as people who are hurting say things in their pain they don’t really mean deep down and won’t really hold to long term.

When people are angry with God, those of us who love the “big God” verses and know the nuances of his word should be the safest place to come and be honest.