Ian Punnett writes what he knows. The author of How to Pray When You're Pissed at God (Harmony, May) has prayed a few angry prayers, especially after tinnitus, with ringing and noises in the ears that make it difficult to sleep, forced him to leave his position as cohost of the popular radio program Coast to Coast AM.
"As awful as this is—and it is awful—it's not cancer, my children are well, I've had a very successful career. There are many things to be grateful for," he says. But knowing that things could be worse doesn't stop people from feeling angry. Punnett knows this firsthand as a deacon in the Episcopal Church, where he has ministered to many with problems that have sparked anger with God.
The idea that someone could express anger at God first struck him when he saw a priest played by Gene Hackman yell at God in the 1972 movie The Poseidon Adventure. "I was shocked and amazed that a person of faith could do that," he says. His 11-year-old's logic told him: "You yell at God, you die."
Years later, the concept of being angry with God resurfaced while at Columbia Theological Seminary in Atlanta he was studying the "anger psalms" (e.g., Psalm 44: "Awake, Lord! Why do you sleep?... Why do you hide your face and forget our misery and oppression?..."). After venting, the writers seemed to feel better, he noticed. He saw a process: recognize how you feel; work and pray through it; be released and healed.
When Punnett served as a chaplain intern in hospitals, anger with God was a central feature in his discussions with patients and family members. "People were too mad to pray, yet prayer was what they craved the most," he says.
Punnett says How to Pray When You're Pissed at God is a tool that can be placed in the hands of those feeling anger with God, though not everyone will embrace it, he knows. One conservative religion publisher acknowledged a need for the topic, but passed on such a risky title, Punnett says. The word "pissed" isn't a gimmick, he insists, because that word came up most in his conversations with angry people. "It expresses a more acute type of anger. They weren't upset, or angry. They were pissed."
The potentially offensive word has been dropped from the book's URL to the official Web site www.howtopraybook.com, so churches and pastors can provide a link to the material without embarrassment, as a tool to help people say what they mean and speak from the heart.
The Bible isn't a sanitized version of life, Punnett says. It captures the emotions of real life "and that is why it still speaks." God is willing to listen to humans speak, too, even when they are angry."