I remember hearing a sermon preached years ago that made such an impression on me that I have thought of it many times over the years and wished that I still had a copy of it. I believe it was called, “Wrestling With God, Against God,” with the corresponding lesson being Genesis 32 when Jacob wrestled with God incarnate. The message stayed with me because it was something I had never heard vocalized before, though I had felt it: sometimes in life we find ourselves in situations where God seems to be against us. No matter what we do we just can’t get a break. It’s as if we, like Jacob, were battling with a force who we thought wanted the best for us, but who won’t let us by to get to the destination that we seek. We are angry that we can’t proceed, we’re exhausted by the fight, and we are confused about who this contender really is: our friend or our foe?
My friend Sara, who lost her one-year-old daughter last May, has seemed a pillar of strength through these many years of dealing with serious health issues for two of her children. She has written beautiful posts that encourage and uplift her readers, even through her tragedies. She knows what Scripture has to say about God’s love and compassion. She can repeat it well to her readers. But in her recent post she confesses:
Round moons, and all the tulips in Holland couldn’t change the fact that this life of pain and sorrow was threatening to swallow me. From where I sat, in the throes of depression, the truths I’d believed, rehearsed, written and proclaimed couldn’t gain traction.
Sara is wrestling with God, against God. Even she, who was and is a model to so many who are experiencing their own trials, has arrived at that point.
Jesus’ own cousin, the one of whom He said, “Among those born of women there has arisen no one greater than John the Baptist,” (Matt. 11:1), sent word through his disciples from his prison cell to find out from Jesus, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” (Matt. 11:3). Some commentaries say that John did this only to prove a point to his disciples; he never doubted Jesus’ mission. After all, he’d been at Jesus’ Baptism when the heavens had opened and the Father Himself had spoken. But some pastors I’ve talked to don’t buy this. John was in prison, suffering, and Jesus, his own relative who had proved to have power from on high, was apparently doing nothing. Is it possible that John, great as he was, reached a point where he, too, was wrestling with God, against God?
You can get to that point and still be a Christian. You can shake your fists and yell and feel forsaken and beaten down and still be “with God.” Because He isn’t going anywhere. In our frustration we can beg God to let us by and yet simultaneously we beg Him not to leave us. When your heart doesn’t feel the joy that was meant to accompany all of God’s promises to you in His Word, He doesn’t turn His back on you. When you demand answers for why this is happening to you, He may not give them to you, but He won’t plug His ears either. Rev. Bryan Wolfmueller made an excellent point in his Issues, Etc. radio interview following the shootings in Aurora, CO (paraphrasing): “Jesus doesn’t always give us the answers—but He always gives us Himself.” He gives us Himself sacramentally, when He is literally poured out for us into the chalice from which we drink. He gives us Himself through the absolution spoken by our pastors, “I forgive you all yours sins…” He gives us Himself through our fellow Christians, who reach out to us in love and concern.
Sometimes you just reach the bottom. All your efforts to feel better have failed. The hope is gone. And yet the Hope is not gone. Jesus is at the bottom, too. How you feel about His promises or the plans He may have for your life do not in any way change the validity of those promises, the efficacy of His Words, or His real and ever-present love for you. It’s easy to tell you to take comfort, to have faith, to “hold on.” It’s easy to tell you what to do or what to feel. But when you’re at the bottom, sometimes you can’t do or feel anything. And it’s OK to be honest with God about this.
Lord, I can’t wrestle anymore. I have nothing left. Dear Jesus, please carry me. Please give me the gifts You promise, even if I can’t receive them joyfully yet. Even if I don’t feel comforted. Keep giving me Yourself so that I may not drown in my sorrows in the bottom of this pit, but float to the top on all that You have poured out for me. Stay with me, even when I despair. Amen.