WORD FROM PASTOR
Wrestling with God
While the Super Bowl halftime show was unfolding with its raunchy spectacle, something even more horrific was happening at the very same moment: the kidnapping and death of 11-year-old Carlie Brucia (a child with roots on Long Island). One could see a hidden link between these two simultaneous events: they show how children in our society are at risk spiritually (by being, as one commentator put it, “drowned in sex and violence by the media”) and physically (by predatory adults). However, the Brucia killing raises for me (and, I’m sure, for many believers) an even more pressing question: where was God when this tragedy happened? A car wash security camera was watching Carlie–but was God’s eye also on her? And why didn’t he stop this horror from happening?
This is perhaps the most troubling question for people of faith–why do bad things happen? It troubled people in Jesus’ time–they questioned him about massacres, tragedies, and birth defects (Luke 13:1-5, John 9:). It troubled Job in the Bible–he cried out to God about the unfairness of losing his family and his property. It troubles us today. In a former parish, I knew a very sweet, kind and devout lady–a Sunday school teacher with a deep love for Jesus. However, whenever the subject of suffering children came up, her voice would take on a bitter edge. “We tell the kids in Sunday school that God is always with them,” she would say. “But what about these kids who are abused, these kids who are murdered? Was God with them?” As much as she loved God, sometimes she felt deeply disappointed by Him.
How do we deal with this in our life of faith? There are a number of helpful approaches to the question of why there is suffering in the world–suffering happens to strengthen us (no pain, no gain); suffering happens to remind us that we need God in an uncertain world; all things happen for a reason, even the most irrational things. These are good answers, they are even Scriptural answers. But sometimes they don’t satisfy us. As we deal with suffering in those around us, and in our own lives, we sometimes find ourselves wrestling with God.
That’s why one of my very favorite Bible passages is, increasingly, the story of Jacob wrestling with God in Genesis. It’s a mysterious story–we don’t really learn exactly why Jacob wrestled with God. But he did–all night long, locked in hand-to-hand combat with the Lord. As daylight comes, the Lord tells Jacob to let him go. But Jacob cries out: “I will not let you go until you bless me!” (Genesis 32:26).
Presumptuous fellow, that Jacob...yet he did indeed get a blessing! “Then He blessed Jacob there.” (Genesis 32:29)
To me, that picture of Jacob wrestling with God is a picture of you and me dealing with the painful things in life. We’re disappointed with God, even angry at Him. But we still hang on to him, just like Jacob did. We’re not going to let Him go. By faith, we hang on–even if that hanging on is like wrestling. And we cry out for a blessing. “I will not let you go until you bless me! I will not let you go until you bless Carlie and all other suffering, exploited children! I will not let you go until you somehow help me make sense of the horrible things that happen in this world!”
But to find that blessing, we must turn to another scene in the Bible...and that’s to the cross. And on the cross, Jesus is doing some wrestling Himself...He’s wrestling with sin and death...He’s even wrestling with His Father: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” His body is lacerated and bleeding. This truly is the suffering of the innocent–the sinless Son of God, the spotless Lamb, is being slaughtered. And, in a way, all the suffering of the world is being heaped upon the Son of God. In some mysterious way, Jesus is bearing all the pain that Carlie Brucia and all other abused and murdered children suffer. He is bearing all the pain–physical, emotional, spiritual–that you and I ever suffer. This is Jesus–God Himself in human flesh–and He is experiencing hurt. For my sake, for your sake.
Here is where our wrestling with God finally takes us...to the foot of the cross. “I will not let you go until you bless me”...and here is where we find the blessing we’ve been looking for...and the answer we’ve been looking for. In the crucified One who suffered for us. And the answer from God is simply this: “I will not take away the suffering of the world...but I will share the suffering of the world. I will let it touch me. I will let it touch me... so that the world can be saved from sin and death.”
Let us not be ashamed to wrestle with God over the pain of this world. Wrestling can be an act of faith–we’re hanging on to Him, confident He will ultimately bless us. But let that wrestling always take us to the holy Cross–where we see that God Himself has been touched by the pain of the world. Let the cross be the place where the wrestling subsides...and gives way to perfect peace.
God loves you and so do I!