A divorced woman in her 50s I’ll call Liz told me her former husband had stated to her ‘out of the blue” that he intended to leave their marriage of 20+ years because he simply felt overwhelmed by trying to cope with her chronic serious health problems which had, years earlier, led to her qualifying for long-term Social Security disability status. Liz said she had been devastated by this sudden revelation.
After the divorce, Liz had been fortunate to have been able to participate in several sessions of a local divorce “recovery’ group with a newly-divorced friend who had offered to drive her. She believed that, with the encouragement and honest sharing by the other group members, she had eventually been helped to move past her almost paralyzing sadness and grieving. But then she discovered within herself an intense and abiding anger with God. Why had God allowed her long-time marriage to suddenly come apart? “It is not my fault that I have serious chronic health problems,” Liz told me with great feeling. “It seems so unfair for God to ‘zap’ me with poor health, and then to add another layer of pain with my divorce and my having to now struggle alone through life.” Liz had been a practicing Catholic her whole life, but as a result of all this, she had lost her faith in a God who truly cares for us. She had stopped going to church because she believed it would be hypocritical for her to pretend to be praying to a God she no longer actually believed in. She did miss interacting with her many acquaintances in her old parish because she had so few other social contacts as a result of her disabilities.
Many (perhaps most) people caught up in dealing with the painful end of their marriage in divorce discover that at some point they are angry with God. Perhaps enraged! Some fear that they may be losing, or have already lost, their faith in God. But if they were truly lacking in faith, they would not even have such a fear. Personal tragedy always tests our faith, however strong our personal faith may be.
We naturally wonder why we “deserve” such a personal tragedy. But no one “deserves” tragedy. (That is different from the fact that we experience painful consequences from our poor personal choices.) The tragedy of the painful end of a marriage just seems way out of proportion to our many past poor choices. That is why we are angry with God! Most of us grew up picking up the notion from our parents and religion teachers that if we were “good”, God would somehow preserve us from bad things which only happened to the “wicked”. This well-meant teaching turns out to be false! As we grow up, we discover painfully that bad things happen to all people whether people judge the “good” or “wicked”.
The true bedrock of our Christian faith, whether we “feel” it or not, is that our faithful God is somehow with us in any painful personal darkness, as God was with Jesus in his suffering and dying which became evident in Jesus’ being raised to new life. How do we know that it is true for us as it was for Jesus? First of all, we have the assurance of Jesus that his Abba (tender loving Father) is our Father also, even in suffering and dying. Beyond that, whenever other people reach out to us in compassion during any painful darkness of ours, it is possible for us to catch a glimpse of God’s Spirit of tender compassion empowering them to do this.
Liz responded to me that she did have to admit that the support she encountered in her recovery group was a real grace for her. Her reaction to my assuring her that anger with God was quite common in the face of overwhelming tragedy, and why that was so, was that, for her, this was a whole new way of looking at everything, and that she needed to really think it over. it did seem to give her a much wider perspective. For the moment, we left it at that. In any case, I assured her that, In the end, God is not “offended” by any anger of ours. God just sees it as a symptom and expression of great pain in our life-journey which we find impossible to figure out. Meanwhile, God continues to accompany us on that journey, even as we feel that we are being overwhelmed by our grief or anger.