Wrestling Faith

By on April 5, 2013
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by Susan E. Richardson

…so I say, “My endurance has perished; so has my hope from the LORD.” Remember my affliction and my wanderings, the wormwood and the gall! My soul continually remembers it and is bowed down within me. But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. “The LORD is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I will hope in him.” Lamentations 3:18-24 (ESV)

Maybe you share the questions I once asked, questions that left me angry with God. If God is truly all-powerful, then why hasn’t He worked out my life challenges? Why didn’t He protect me from abuse? Why do I struggle just to keep going every day? I asked these and many more through my journey.

Friends tried to tell me to trust God, but that didn’t answer my pain and questions. My problem was what I believed with my head clashed with what I felt in my heart. When I put some of the events of my life against what the Bible says about God, I came up with pictures that didn’t match. Choosing to trust what I knew to be true didn’t change the way I felt.

In the end I had to face my biggest problem. Though I was willing to ask the questions, I wouldn’t ask God about them. I asked friends. I asked myself. I cherished my questions and the anger that went with them, but I never took them to God.

Instead I offered Him my performance, trying to say and do the right things. Finally I began to offer Him honesty. I admitted I was angry with Him. I told Him what I wished He’d done differently and how it looked like He’d failed me by not protecting me.

I also had to tell Him that I was afraid of Him. With all the pain and wounds on my heart, I feared more if I allowed Him close. We serve a relational God, one who wants to know us and have us know Him. My heart, with all of its wounds and questions and messy emotions, was what He asked for.

In the end we had to wrestle it out together like Jacob wrestled with the angel in the Bible. The struggle forced me to open my heart more to God as I listened for His answers to my questions. In the end, the gap between head and heart narrowed as I allowed Him to enter more deeply.

Christians in the past called this kind of wrestling with God “lament.” Michael Card speaks of lament as a spiritual discipline we’ve lost in the modern church in his book A Sacred Sorrow. He defines lament as bringing your grief, anger, and questions to God, something we see in Scripture, especially in the Psalms.

In Psalm 13:1-4 David provides a good example. He asks God, “How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and every day have sorrow in my heart? How long will my enemy triumph over me? Look on me and answer, O LORD my God. Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death; my enemy will say, ‘I have overcome him,’ and my foes will rejoice when I fall.”

However, we must balance questions with the other portion of lament: reminding ourselves of what we know to be true about God. David models the process in this Psalm. Verses five and six move from questions to praise with, “But I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation. I will sing to the LORD, for he has been good to me.”

You can make lament a part of your journey by listing your struggles and your questions. Take these before God, looking to Him for the answers even as you acknowledge anger or pain. Let Scriptures you read refresh your knowledge of God’s character. His steadfast love is for you.

Father, we fear giving you the gift of our heart, with all the pain and messy questions each one contains. Life has hurt us badly and we fear more pain. Please be gentle with our wounded souls. We will hold onto what we know to be true about You, even as we wrestle with doubt and fear.