Thursday, April 12, 2012

Wrestling with God

And Jacob was left alone. And a man wrestled with him until the breaking of the day. When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he touched his hip socket, and Jacob's hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him. Then he said, “Let me go, for the day has broken.” But Jacob said, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” And he said to him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Jacob.” Then he said, “Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with men, and have prevailed.” (Genesis 32:24-28 ESV)

Life hurts. A lot. Sure, being alive is awesome and I’m definitely not a nihilist. But we’re fallen humans living in a fallen world. Everything good was shattered by mankind’s decision to be independent of God. That choice left behind sharp, jagged shards and they lie everywhere; we inevitably cut ourselves everyday.

            We all have days that we ask, “what’s the point?” We experience illnesses, accidents, loss and grief, broken dreams and crushed hearts. “Why God?” We ask or would like to ask. C. S. Lewis had similar questions and emotions after losing his wife:

Where is God? … Go to Him when your need is desperate, when all other help is vain, and what do you find? A door slammed in your face, and a sound of bolting and double bolting on the inside. After that, silence (Lewis 17-18).

It’s painful to want answers for our specific problems and feel like God isn’t listening. Scripture offers general advice and explanations for the reason of suffering and hardships, but some days it doesn’t seem like enough. One question just creates a cycle of more questions. As humans we start experiencing strong emotions.

            I have often heard growing up that it’s sinful and wrong to be angry with God. I’m not going to say this view is incorrect, because anger tends to lead to sinful words and deeds. But anger is an emotion that Jesus Himself exhibited in appropriate situations. Anger is a natural emotion. We all experience it and some need to work harder than others to control their rage. I become angry when I’m frustrated, upset, or lose control of a situation. Sometimes I realize the cause of my anger, I seek to problem solve, talk about the quandary with someone I trust, and/or turn it over to God. But sometimes rather than selecting positive solutions, I tend to bottle up what I’m feeling and implode. Somewhere along the way I internalized a need to be a good, Christian nice guy.

            Anger certainly can lead us to do and say bad things. But the anger’s there in our gut nonetheless. C. S. Lewis honestly and transparently admitted, “Sometimes it is hard not to say ‘God forgive God’” (Lewis 40). So what are we supposed to do with all this anger we feel towards God? The Bible is full of examples. David was a man who lived a chaotic and stressful life. People wanted him dead, there was murder and incest happening in his family, and there was plenty of suffering due to David’s own sinful choices. David’s life was full of tension and pain. So what did he do? He expressed his sorrows and frustrations to God, especially through poetry, the Psalms. David didn’t stuff the anger, He talked about it. David and Jesus both proclaimed, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” That’s a statement of frustration, loneliness, rejection, and maybe even anger.

            In my own experience, I have embraced the idea of tension and wrestling. There are things that I don’t understand and never will. There are days I’m furious with God. There are days I say things to God in my prayers that I have to go back later and apologize and repent for saying. But again, I emphasize that anger is a normal human emotion. God expects it. If you’re feeling angry, you might as well share it with God because He already knows! Like everything in life, we are in the process of sanctification. That includes our prayer time. I assure you, we all have room for improvement in our prayers besides our moodiness and frustration with God’s will. But I do believe that through this idea of wrestling with God, He blesses us. Our faith and relationship with God grows. Isn’t that how normal relationships work? If we love someone, eventually we’re going to disagree with them, probably even become infuriated, get into a verbal spat, feel guilty, ask for forgiveness, receive forgiveness and agape love, and the friendship strengthens throughout these experiences.

            We are called to trust God. Sooner or later, the anger will subside and we must admit that there may not be a human answer for our predicament. That doesn’t mean asking questions, expressing emotions, and reasoning through our difficulties are worthless endeavors. God gave us brains, scripture, and community. We should avail ourselves of these gifts. God doesn’t ask us to be doormats or intellectually lazy and stupid individuals. But when everything has failed to address our problems or anguish, we must submit to God’s providence and loving care. Writing about Job, a biblical figure who suffered tremendously, Philip Yancey writes:

A God wise enough to rule the universe is wise enough to watch over his child Job, regardless of how things seem in the bleakest moments. A God wise enough to create me and the world I live in is wise enough to watch out for me (Yancey 106).

Yancey notes that God’s response to Job never really answers Job’s questions. God does express His power over creation, His omnipotence and creativity. As Annie Dillard remarked, “Who are we to demand explanations of God? (And what monsters of perfection should we be if we did not?)” (Dillard 62).

            Don’t be afraid of tension and asking questions. God can take them. Having doubts doesn’t make us unchristian or indicate we’re not children of God. These valleys, dark nights of the soul, famines of the spirit all challenge us to grow closer to God. In the end we must have faith that God has promised to provide for and love us. When you’re angry, let Him know it and work through the anger to reach a new understanding of God and your life. Yes, life hurts. It often doesn’t make sense. But God commits to be there with you even when you challenge Him to a wrestling match.


Dillard, Annie. (1977). Holy the Firm. New York: HarperCollins.

Lewis, C. S.(1961). A Grief Observed. New York: HarperCollins.

Yancey, Philip. (1990). Where is God When it Hurts? Grand Rapids, MI.

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