Wrestling with God in Front of an Audience
After I became a Christian during my freshman year of college, the Psalms were such a comforting oasis of honest poetry to me because of how raw and candid they are.
As I was learning spend time in the Word, Psalms was always the book I would turn to first simply because I felt like as I read the Psalms, they were actually reading me.
In many cases, it was almost as if my reflection could be spotted when the Psalm scandalously described frustration, anger, or confusion with God.
Psalm 13 (a Psalm of David) gives us a good example of what I’m talking about:
How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I take counsel in my soul
and have sorrow in my heart all the day?
How long shall my enemy be exalted over me? (Psalm 13:1-2)
In this text, David is essentially asking God if he cares at all about his life. He’s questioning God’s timing, goodness, and sovereignty all in two little verses. He’s taking intentional time to write out the deepest, darkest parts of his thought process for us, and in so doing, David becomes a representation for humanity living in a sinful world.
I won’t speak for you, but in my years of ministry with college students, I’ve certainly asked some of these questions in my mind and heart…maybe not in the poetic rhetoric of King David, but I’ve asked the questions nonetheless.
“Where are you, God? Remember me? How long will I have to put up with this misery? When will this pain come to an end? Why does life always seem to be so hard?”
The Psalms not only give us permission to explore our negative feelings, but they almost force us to lean into them.
I like how Pastor Lynn Anderson describes this exploration when he says, “The Psalms give us permission to beat on God’s chest.”
The imagery here is vivid, and it resonates with me because I can imagine myself crying with my face buried in God’s chest screaming, “Why would you let this happen to me?”
It’s easy for me to picture because I kind of already did something like this a few years ago.
I suffer from chronic pain due to a herniated disc in my lower back that puts pressure on my sciatic nerve. It’s been a daily battle for me, and after about three years into it, I remember standing in my bathroom with tears running down my face and my head buried in the towels that hung from the rack. I beat the wall through the towels, audibly crying, “Have you even heard anything I’ve prayed about over the last three years? Where are you, God? Why won’t you help me?”
So yeah, I get it. And consequently, I like when the Psalms get super real. It helps to know I’m in good company when I wrestle with the same kind of doubts King David had, and struggle with the same questions he asked.
In college ministry, doubt and pain can be incredibly isolating, and the book of Psalms helps us to know we are not alone when we or our students doubt.
As our doubts arise, we are given the invitation to pursue God in unique ways that aren’t “business as usual” with Him.
Our students not only hear us talk about this, but they watch us live it, providing them with front row seating to the messiness of humanity—messiness that highlights our inadequacy and simultaneously magnifies His grace and forgiveness in the face of our doubts.
The Christian life isn’t about trying harder to be perfect or making sure we always respond “correctly” in the face of difficulties and trials. And as much as our students might know this intellectually, they need to see it practically modeled in a way that demonstrates spiritual health when doubts creep in.
There’s this wild and somewhat bizarre story at the end of Genesis 32 where Jacob wrestles with God. During my freshman year of college, I remember reading it as a brand new Christian and being super confused as to what was going on and what it all meant.
Jacob sends his family across this stream, and then ends up wrestling with God all night long until the sun comes up. At one point, Jacob’s hip is touched by God during the wrestling match, throwing it out of socket. Jacob then clings to his opponent, the Lord, and God blesses him.
What has always interested me in this story (other than its obvious strangeness) is that Jacob goes from wrestling with God to clinging to Him.
From struggling to embracing.
From fighting to cherishing.
Verse 24 says that they wrestle, and then verse 26 says this:
“Then he said, ‘Let me go, for the day has broken.’ But Jacob said, ‘I will not let you go unless you bless me.’” (Genesis 32:26)
Jacob has moved from battling with God to grasping on to Him in hopes of blessing.
When we live with doubt, it can feel quite often that we are in the throes of a wrestling match with God. It can feel strange and embarrassing, and even sometimes hopeless. But like this story from the Bible, our life’s narrative should shift from wrestling to clinging, and that shift will often come via some sort of “hip socket moment” initiated by God.
Our students need to see this practically lived out in our lives in a way that models our dependence on God when things are great and our faith is strong, and the times when we are actively wrestling with the Lord in our doubts and the “hip socket moment” painfully brings us to our knees.
In either of those life circumstances, we’re modeling the kind of intentional engagement with our Creator which drives us into deeper connection with Him. When it’s modeled well, it has the powerful ability to replicate itself in the lives of our students, highlighting not our ability to overcome, but God’s ability to sanctify His children, heal our doubts, and draw us into a more profound loving and dependent relationship with Him.