My baby seemed the tiniest of them all, weighing only 1 lb 11 1/2 ounces at birth. I stared at him for an eternity, trying to comprehend how he could be that small and still be alive. Trying to figure out what had happened and how I should react. Should I feel joy or despair? Fear or faith? Grief or gratitude? Rage or relief? Would it be safer not to feel anything at all? How long would this poor human soul be with us? What now? What were his chances? What exactly was wrong with him?
And, oh yes, WHY!! Why was this happening? Why had God allowed this to happen, when all we ever prayed for was for this child to go full term? Why, when we were good Christians, after all? Why, when we were just getting back on our feet financially? Every dream had been shattered. We wanted to bring our boy into the world naturally with love and respect. Instead, he’d been cut from his mother’s body and subjected to the indignity of bright lights, invasive wires and tubes, and pain.
Over the course of the next four months, I argued with, railed at, pleaded with, attempted to strike deals with, begged, and demanded of God. Don’t get me wrong; I was really, really grateful for my son’s life.
Yet I was all-too-aware of how God could simply snap His fingers and everything would be better. My son would be off those machines. My family would be happy and whole, back home instead of a hospital in another state, and God would get all the glory for this wonderful miracle! Or God could’ve just kept my son inside Mommy and none of this would’ve happened at all.
In Genesis 32:24-26, we read of how Jacob wrestled all night. We all wrestle with God at some point in our lives.
In the movie, From Dusk Till Dawn, Harvey Keitel plays a disillusioned Baptist minister suffering a crisis of faith over the death of his wife. When confronted over his spiritual shipwreck, he makes a statement that is startling in its profundity:
“I don’t care if you’re a Baptist preacher, a Catholic priest, or a Buddhist monk. There is a time in every man’s life when he must look in the mirror and ask himself, ‘Am I a fool?'” (Keitel.)
Silence from Heaven is a horrible thing. There is an unacknowledged tendency to wonder whether we pray to Anyone at all. What if in all this time our efforts have been futile? What if there is silence because we shouldn’t expect anything else from something that never existed in the first place? Am I a fool?
It’s easy to forget in those moments of extreme loss and disillusionment that He hasn’t always been silent. Nor will He always remain so.
Another tendency is to wonder whether we pray to Anyone who cares. What if our efforts are in vain because there will never be a response? What if silence is an indication of a Cruel, Aloof Presence that cares not a whit for the suffering of humanity? What if God really has left us to our own devices would our prayers ever affect such an Impersonal, Stoic God? Am I a fool?
We forget that at the time Job felt the most abandoned by God, he was in fact under the most scrutiny from his Creator. At the time when he felt God was the most unconcerned with his situation, God was acutely aware of every detail. We forget that we serve the One who said to cast all of our cares upon Him, becaue He does indeed care for us, as improbable as that may seem at times.
Sometimes we have to struggle past our situation. That sounds like good Christian rhetoric, but it’s more true than I’d like to admit.
I’m ashamed to admit that there are many times I’d prefer God as a vending machine, dispensing answered prayers instantly at my slightest request. Even at my best, I’m amazed at my selfish tendency to offer up shopping lists and thoughtless mantras in lieu of genuine communication. Too, there were times when I would’ve given my right arm for health and wealth theology to have proven true. Yet God is not Santa Claus, so, like Jacob, we find that we must sometimes wrestle with God.
The common thinking in today’s religious circles seems to contend that we must “clean up” our prayers before we present them to God. It insists that we not fight, that we not protest, that we not cry out, but simply accept all in smiling sainthood. As for all of our feelings of abandonment, outrage, rage, disgust, vengefulness, grief, anguish, betrayal, and hopelessness, we are expected to sweep them under the rug of presumed religious piety.
Yet “patient” Job railed at God. Yet David, a man after God’s own heart, accuses God of abandonment, begs for ugly violent retribution on his enemies, and professes hopelessness throughout the Psalms. Even the newly famous Prayer of Jabez (1 Chronicles 4:10), so misused by greedy prosperity preachers, is at the basest level the prayer of a desperate man pouring out his anguish upon Almighty God!
God is bigger than our feelings. He’s bigger than the struggle. Through my own wrestlings with God, especially over my son, I’ve come to believe that He wants us to lay it on Him. That is, He wants our complete honesty. He wants us to cast all of our cares on Him, because He cares for us. He doesn’t want us to pretend we don’t feel the way we do. He wants a real relationship with us. In fact, He already knows how we feel (Job 42:1-6; Psalm 139:1-4). He knows you feel vengeful, or hurt, or abandoned. He knows you’re mad at Him. He knows that you think He’s being unfair. He knows our thoughts, every last ugly detail. The only one deluded into thinking we’ve spared God this mess is ourselves.
Are we afraid we’ll offend the One who bore all such offenses on the cross? Are we afraid we’ll make Him mad? His feelings aren’t so easily hurt. He knows how we feel and, even if we don’t, why we feel as we do. He wants us to give those things to Him, so He can nail them to the cross where they belong. He wants to cleanse the wound, letting all the infection wash away, so it can close and heal. Wrestling with God allows us to get past these negative feelings. We don’t solve problems by ignoring them, and neither do you deal with feelings by pretending they don’t exist. We can’t just pretend we don’t feel the way we do, but we can turn it over to God.
Even the daunting question Harvey Keitel asked.
Casting all your care upon him; for he careth for you. – 1 Peter 5:7