Growing up in the church, I constantly heard the great stories of faith. Like Joseph saving the people of Israel and Egypt and how God came through for him. We love those stories because we believe their story should be our story—but we forget something important: between the few pages of Joseph being thrown into a pit to save the people from famine and Egypt’s deliverance are decades of struggle, questions, doubt, and uncertainty. We love the stories of crossing the Red Sea, forgetting the centuries of slavery, crossing the Jordan River into the promised land and forgetting the 40 years of wandering. It’s like the resurrection without the cross, or the power of the early church without the martyrdom of its followers.
When life doesn’t look like the Bible
What we do when life doesn’t match up to the stories in the Bible is extremely important. I’ve seen hundreds of people do one or two things. They either turn away too quickly from the Bible and the church and conclude that they were misinformed. Or they hold onto the Bible so tightly, yet mindlessly, never asking more challenging questions or being honest that this life of faith is really hard, and they eventually become disillusioned.
There’s a third option. From Job to the Psalms to Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, we find people willing to cry out to God with their questions and doubts and a God who is willing to listen.
When my four sons were young, I would wrestle with them until they were on the ground screaming for mercy (the good kind of screaming). As they grew, I had to keep increasing the intensity for them to have the same experience. They were never afraid to wrestle with me (albeit maybe a little nervous).
Jacob the wrestler
As Jacob wrestled with God in Genesis 32, he said something powerful as they held on to each other: “I will not let you go unless you bless me” (v.26, NIV). After my oldest son died, I remember how afraid I was to wrestle with God, to question Him and to express my doubts and my pain. But I decided to get in the ring with God. To wrestle with Him. To ask Him for answers.
In that moment (and in many moments since), I found a God willing to listen to my cries and questions. But the most important thing I found in wrestling with God was a deeper and more intimate relationship with Him.
When my boys and I were on the floor grabbing each other, holding each other, jumping on each other—it was an intimate point of contact for us as father and sons. It must have been similar for Jacob and God as they wrestled all night. Even after God wounded Jacob, he didn’t give up. He stayed in it with God.
Don’t give up the fight
It’s easy to give up on God when we see or experience suffering and injustice. Let me tell you, it’s easier to walk away than to stay in it. Thousands have left the church because they could not reconcile their suffering with their Theology about God.
I’m not the same as I was before my son’s death. I’ve changed. I don’t walk the same. I don’t talk the same. I don’t prioritize the same. The transformation didn’t come because of my son’s death, but it came when I accepted God’s invitation to get in the ring with Him. And today, though I walk with a limp, I also walk with a deeper intimacy with God that only wrestling with Him can bring.
I encourage you to get in the ring with God. Grab a hold of Him, and don’t let go. Let your suffering, doubts and questions become catalysts to a more intimate and deep relationship with Him.