O LORD, you misled me, and I allowed myself to be misled.
You are stronger than I am, and you overpowered me.
Now I am mocked every day; everyone laughs at me.
When I speak, the words burst out. “Violence and destruction!” I shout.
So these messages from the LORD have made me a household joke.
But if I say I’ll never mention the LORD or speak in his name, his word burns in my heart like a fire. It’s like a fire in my bones!
I am worn out trying to hold it in! I can’t do it. (Jeremiah 20:7-9 NLT)
The prophet Jeremiah had a long and difficult ministry. The people refused to listen to his warnings, and they abused him, beat him and mocked him. He felt that God had not warned him of how tough his job would be, but God’s word burned within him so strongly that he couldn’t keep his mouth shut! And so he wrestled with God, challenging the Almighty and pouring out his grief and anger at God.
Human life is often very difficult, and no one is immune from grief, failure, or trauma. Yet, often our worship is so sanitised and contained that there is no place for this wrestling. It’s like we have to check any negative emotions or doubts at the door, and sing and pray as if we had not a care in the world. Yet, we can’t help but feel the dishonesty of this, and so, in our worst times, we often choose to stay away from the church, where the weight of our grief should be most easily carried.
It seems strange to think that we could question, challenge or disagree with God. If God is God, we think, then God knows best, and we must just trust and obey. But, this is not the testimony of the Scriptures. Throughout the Bible we see God’s chosen servants passionately wrestling with God – which often deepened their connection with God, and led them to a place of greater trust. But, they couldn’t get to this deeper place if they had not been willing to wrestle
So, next time you find yourself wrestling with doubts, questions or complaints against God, don’t try to bury them or leave them outside of the church, and don’t stay away from worship. Bring your wrestling into the sanctuary, and lift it up to God. Take comfort from knowing that you are among friends – psalmists and prophets in the Scriptures who have wrestled before you, and who now lend you their words to express your pain. As Frederick Buechner explains, it is this wrestling that makes our faith genuine and life-giving:
If you tell me Christian commitment is a kind of thing that has happened to you once and for all like some kind of spiritual plastic surgery, I say go to, go to, you’re either pulling the wool over your own eyes, or trying to pull it over mine. Every morning you should wake up in your beds and ask yourself: ‘Can I believe it all again today?’ No, better still, don’t ask it till after you’ve read The New York Times, till after you’ve studied that daily record of the world’s brokenness and corruption, which should always stand side by side with your Bible. Then ask yourself if you can believe in the Gospel of Jesus Christ again for that particular day. If your answer is always Yes, then you probably don’t know what believing means. At least five times out of ten the answer should be No because the No is as important as the Yes, maybe more so. The No is what proves you’re human in case you should ever doubt it. And then if some morning the answer happens to be really Yes, it should be a Yes that’s choked with confession and tears and . . . great laughter.
(From The Return of Ansel Gibbs, quoted by Philip Yancey in Soul Survivor (Hodder & Stoughton, London, 2001) p.252)