“The Lord has the sign of the foot of bhrigupada as the mark of tolerance. The Lord, therefore, is never affected by any kind of wrath, so how can there be any place for lust, which is less strong than wrath? When lust or desire is not fulfilled, there is the appearance of wrath, but in the absence of wrath how can there be any place for lust? The Lord is known as apta-kama, or one who can fulfill His desires by Himself. He does not require anyone's help to satisfy His desires.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 2.7.7 Purport)
In an episode of the famous American television sitcom Everybody Loves Raymond, one of the children makes a presentation of a short story in school. It is titled “The Angry Family”, and it is about how the members of the family are always angry with each other. This alarms the parents, grandparents and uncle who are in attendance. They all live within close proximity, so for the young child to describe a family that’s angry, he must be referencing his own. The concern is caused by the fact that a family is not supposed to be angry; it is supposed to be happy to have each other around. We get angry with people we are not friends with or with people we don’t know very well. Friends and family are our support system, so why should they be angry in dealing with each other?
But there is anger from time to time. Especially between husband and wife, personal desires aren’t always met. The wife wants the husband to do more around the house. “Don’t just come home and plop yourself on the couch. Help out with the dishes. Cook something. Take the kids out of the house so that I can get some work done. Ask me how my day was. Don’t be so selfish. If you really loved me, you wouldn’t have to ask why I’m angry.” The husband, for his part, wants the wife to be supportive. “Don’t nag me all the time. I had a hard day at work, so I want to have some peace and quiet when I get home. Why are you always yelling? And don’t tell me what to wear and what to eat. I don’t like that.”
In social circles that believe in God, it is generally accepted that we living entities are God’s children. He is the Supreme Father, and we are the nurtured dependents. We see that families get angry, so God must be the same way with us, no? “If we defy His will, He will punish us. And sometimes the punishment is severe, so we mustn’t go against His wishes.” Through consulting Vedic texts, we get more concrete information about God, and the analogy to the father who sometimes gets angry starts to break down. God is most certainly a caring father, but there is no specific anger on His part in relation to our willful neglect of worship. The consequences are automatically built into the system, and in actuality God is the most benevolent. Not even a kick to His chest from an unexpected assailant can make Him angry.
To understand how the consequences operate, we can look to fire. If we place our hand into a fire, we will get burned. It’s as simple as that. We don’t need to study too much about the fire or the hand. This is just the law of nature. The wise person will advise against putting the hand in the fire, but if someone else doesn’t listen, is the wise person to blame for the reaction? Of course they aren’t, as the properties of fire exist regardless of outside opinion. In addition, that same fire has other uses which are beneficial. This means that it is the improper use which causes the negative reaction, not the fire itself nor the person who created it.
God created everything in this world, and thus there is an ideal use for everything. In the improper use, there are negative consequences, which are sometimes intense. He is not to blame, as the energies can be used for our benefit. Independence, a minute amount at that, is the most potent gift that we have, which means that it also has the highest potential for misuse. Our independence is meant to be used for serving God in what is known as bhakti-yoga, or the linking of the individual soul with the Supreme Soul. This is confirmed by Lord Chaitanya, who says that the true form of the self, or svarupa, is servant of God.
“It is the living entity's constitutional position to be an eternal servant of Krishna because he is the marginal energy of Krishna and a manifestation simultaneously one and different from the Lord, like a molecular particle of sunshine or fire. Krishna has three varieties of energy.” (Chaitanya Charitamrita, Madhya 20.108-109)
Any other engagement is thus a misuse of the independence. Large or small, pious or impious, if the activity is done for personal sense gratification, enjoyment tied to a temporary body, there will be some negative consequences. This is how karma operates, i.e. there is work and a subsequent reaction tied to the material body. Bhakti is above karma, as it is the constitutional engagement of the soul.
One has the choice between karma and bhakti because of God’s benevolence. He does not force anyone to love Him. In fact, if there were force applied the resulting relationship couldn’t be accurately described as a loving one. There has to be voluntary acceptance from the person offering the service; otherwise the offering is not genuine. If someone apologizes to us simply to get away with what they did, will we accept their apology? Do we not expect a genuine feeling of remorse from someone who has wronged us?
The “angry God” concept is invalid also because of what causes anger. Anger is due to frustration, the inability to get what you want. But if you’re God, how could you ever not get what you want? If you are frustrated due to inability, it means that you are fallible. If you are fallible, then you aren’t God. If you are God, then your tolerance should actually be immeasurable; no one should be able to sway you from your steady position.
There is an interesting incident related in the Puranas that illustrates this high level of tolerance. One time Bhrigu Muni conducted a test to see who was supreme among Lord Brahma, Lord Shiva and Lord Vishnu. The original Personality of Godhead is known as Krishna in the Vedic tradition, and Vishnu is His direct expansion who carries out the original creation and subsequent maintenance of the universe. Brahma and Shiva are exalted living beings who carry out other functions in the same creation, but they are subordinate. They worship Vishnu and that’s what makes them exalted.
Bhrigu managed to offend both Brahma and Shiva with his purposeful impious behavior. When he reached Vishnu, his method of experiment was a kick to the chest. Can we ever imagine doing such a thing? Would you go up to a professional wrestler and kick them in the stomach? They would immediately run after you, no? God is the most powerful, so if you kick Him in the chest, He has the most strength to use in retaliation.
Vishnu took the blow in stride. Since Bhrigu was a brahmana devotee, Vishnu said that He was very humbled to have felt the lotus feet of a brahmana on His chest. He worried that Bhrigu might have gotten hurt by having to kick a chest that was so hard. In this way Vishnu’s supremacy was proven, as His tolerance was unexpected and unbelievable. For the devotee, the Supreme Lord is willing to do anything.
If He needs to show anger on occasion, He will do so. Prahlada Maharaja was harassed by his father when he was only five years old. Prahlada used his independence properly, but the foolish father didn’t like that. For the sake of protecting the devotional service of His devotee, the same Vishnu arrived on the scene in a ferocious form named Narasimha and very angrily tore Prahlada’s father in half, killing him. The father had neglected devotional service for all his life, but that in itself didn’t warrant personal intervention from an “angry” God. It was when he tried to obstruct the devotion of his son that the Supreme Lord personally intervened.
Families sometimes do get angry, but in the spiritual family consisting of the devoted sons and daughters and the Supreme Lord, there is only love. To this day Vishnu proudly wears Bhrigu’s footprint on His chest, and His protection of Prahlada is a famous incident celebrated and discussed constantly. God is nice, and those who chant the holy names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, quickly realize it.
Families sometimes with each other fight,
Familiarity raises tension just upon sight.
Since God is father maybe He is the same,
To those who ignore Him He brings pain?
Actually, the Lord’s tolerance supremely strong,
Never defeated in getting that for which He longs.
Between karma and bhakti is our choice,
Better in glorifying God to rejoice.
He’ll even get angry for protection to offer,
Like when Prahlada harassed by his father.