Ian Punnett, a radio host, author and Episcopalian minister, is tackling one of the most confusing, frustrating and problematic issues that most religious people face at various points in their lives: How to handle their relationship with God when challenges arise and circumstances become difficult — even unbearable.
As anyone who has had his or her faith challenged by life’s more unpalatable events knows, coping with the spiritual fallout isn’t easy. In his new book, “How to Pray When You’re Pissed at God,” the faith leader and author takes a unique approach to helping Christians move past the anger that might prevent them from continuing their relationship with God.
Now, the book may not be for everyone. There is some language that holds the possibility to offend (and we asked Punnett about that), although many readers will likely see its inclusion as an honest representation of the raw feelings, emotions and plights that Christians face when anger and pain enters their lives.
TheBlaze recently interviewed Punnett to learn more about the book, to understand how Christians can get past anger — and to gain perspective regarding why he penned the text in the first place. Read our interview with the faith leader, below:
THEBLAZE: Is it okay for Christians to be angry at God?
PUNNETT: I would turn that this way: Is it okay for Christians to be human to the Divine? Anger is a human emotion that is tied to feelings of disrespect. When things pile up and we feel that our relationship with God is failing us, it’s easy to experience strong feelings of anger.
If we are feeling anger toward God — or anybody else for that matter — then who do we think we’re fooling by NOT just admitting them and healthily working through them like we would in any of our relationships? I mean, if there’s some magic hat that I can wear that can keep an omniscient God from knowing what is in my heart, tell me which church sells them.
So, is it okay for Christians to be angry at God? Absolutely, as long as we don’t live in that anger and allow it to define or even end the relationship. That’s the greater sin.
THEBLAZE: Why did you choose to put “pissed” in header?
PUNNETT: Originally I heard a seminary professor use the word in regard to the “curse psalms” of the Bible. He said, “These are prayers by some pretty pissed off people” and it stuck with me because it’s the same word I later heard used most of the time when I did two rounds as a hospital chaplain intern.
Funny thing was, when people said it to me in their hospital rooms — “I’m just so pissed at God that I don’t know what to say anymore” — they sometimes said it in hushed tones as if they were going to offend me, not God! The title of the book reflects my response to their dilemma. “Well, here’s how to pray when you’re pissed at God,” and we’d go from there. It names it. Can’t ask for anything better from a title than THAT.
THEBLAZE: Why did you choose some words like “sh*t,” a*s” etc. in the body of the book?
PUNNETT: In its original Hebrew and Greek, the Bible is much earthier than our English language translations tolerate, so I think it’s important to encourage people to not sanitize their prayers in the name of piety. As so often happens with euphemisms, the thought in our head is “I can’t take this sh*t,” but what comes out of our mouth is, “I can’t take this poo-poo.”
Why do we think that reverting to baby-talk is the better option for an adult? Do we think that God gives us special points for thinking it but not saying it? I believe if cursing or using vulgar language would help you get everything out of your system, then God would appreciate honest prayers. Chances are, the Bible has said worse.
THEBLAZE: Have these decisions created any issues for you?
PUNNETT: Pastorally, on the main, being over the whole vocabulary thing has been a positive experience for me. I am not hung up on language or jokes or very many things, actually, and that sometimes can present a problem in the pulpit. I don’t believe in wasting people’s time when I preach, so my sermons tend to be shorter and to the point and, occasionally, that kind of frankness can be off-putting to those who want more flowery speeches.
THEBLAZE: How does one get over anger and learn to pray effectively in times of tragedy?
PUNNETT: Say exactly what you’re feeling exactly when you’re feeling it. Instead of treating God like some kind of proctor who is about to judge your oral exam, think of God as your best college roommate to whom you could tell everything. And tell God everything.
THEBLAZE: How does one turn anger around for the positive?
PUNNETT: It’s a myth that anger is always negative. Without anger, we would never have ended slavery, stopped Hitler, fought for civil rights or tried to save the school at the end of block. Righteous anger can lead us to correct injustices and what could be more positive than that? The caution is, righteousness is fleeting so we’re wise to remember another lesson from the Bible: There is a fine line between righteous and self-righteous.
THEBLAZE: What has your own anger taught you?
PUNNETT: When a referee calls a game badly for both sides, I’m fine, but if the ref lazily or intentionally plays favorites, that really makes me mad.
So, my takeaway is that, for whatever childhood reason caused it, fairness in opportunity is what matters for me. My anger has taught me that I am a process-based thinker and I have learned to be very Zen about that.
Visit Punnett’s web site for more information about “How to Pray When You’re Pissed at God.”
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