God can be very frustrating. There. I said it.
We like neat categories where every situation has a clear explanation. God is doing this for that reason. A friend insists on a destructive lifestyle because he is clearly unregenerate, and sin is what the unregenerate do. One plus one equals two.
Another friend seems never to suffer anything wrong. She always smiles and raises her hands in church because that is what Christians do. No matter what. As the 1980s deodorant advertised, “Never let them see you sweat.” The platitudes always seem to work. God is in control. He has a purpose. God is good, all the time.
Admittedly a generalization, but we Bible-belters seem to have two categories of people. Either you are an abject rebel needing to say a prayer to begin a personal relationship with Jesus. Or, you are a thriving Christian who is never confused, never questions, never wrestles with God. After all, Paul did say we must not “answer back to God” (Rom 9.20). So, the good Christian grins and bears the providence of God . . . or else.
To be honest, I find myself often somewhere in between these categories. While I spent twenty-one years in the first one I frankly have not spent much time at all in the second. And although I do not want to, I feel guilty about that.
As I have sought to fit what I feel into a biblical framework (and everything must fit, mind you), I have found Scripture to give genuine latitude to the frustrated, confused Christian. There are honest believers in God who love his will and glory, but who also struggle to fit his love into unexplained painful circumstances. They do not question God with a high hand but plead with God out of their anguish for a sense of his care. They do not knowingly shake their fists at God but honestly want God to mend broken hearts.
They are like Job who confessed:
In truth I know that this is so; but how can a man be in the right before God? If one wished to dispute with Him, he could not answer Him once in a thousand times. Wise in heart and mighty in strength, who has defied Him without harm? It is God who removes the mountains, they know not how, when He overturns them in His anger; who shakes the earth out of its place, and its pillars tremble; who commands the sun not to shine, And sets a seal upon the stars; who alone stretches out the heavens And tramples down the waves of the sea; who makes the Bear, Orion and the Pleiades, and the chambers of the south; who does great things, unfathomable, And wondrous works without number. Were He to pass by me, I would not see Him; were He to move past me, I would not perceive Him. Were He to snatch away, who could restrain Him? Who could say to Him, ‘What are You doing?’ God will not turn back His anger; beneath Him crouch the helpers of Rahab. How then can I answer Him, and choose my words before Him? For though I were right, I could not answer; I would have to implore the mercy of my judge. If I called and He answered me, I could not believe that He was listening to my voice. For He bruises me with a tempest and multiplies my wounds without cause. He will not allow me to get my breath, but saturates me with bitterness. If it is a matter of power, behold, He is the strong one! And if it is a matter of justice, who can summon Him? (Job 9.2-19)
Job is not a rebel against God. Job is not a happy-go-lucky Christian. He is not trying to take God on or question God’s strength, power or sovereignty. He is not trying to beat God or put God on trial. Job confesses God can do what he wills and man never has the upper hand on him. Yet, Job is a man begging to fit what he knows and confesses about God into his unsolicited pain. Job does not demand God answer for himself, but he still wants answers from God.
I have spent this year gripped by Psalm 39. Confessing his hope was in and salvation from God (vv7-8), he still prayed that God “turn [His] gaze away from me, that I may smile again before I depart and am no more (v13). God had chastened him for sin and consumed all that was precious to him (v11). And David prayed that God let up on him so that maybe, just maybe, he might enjoy a smile before he died.
God’s shining face was the hope of God’s children (Num 6.24-26). His frown was their dread (Is 54.8; Jer 33.5). And here is one of God’s children, indeed the Son of God, begging God to give him a break. David did not pray God necessarily smile on him, but that God might just leave him alone for a spell.
Certainly David is not giving us license to question God easily or thoughtlessly (the attitude against which God warns us in Rom 9.20). He is at least giving us comfort that God’s true children can seriously wrestle with God without fear of being condemned by him. In fact, David wrote most of his Psalms out of such despair.
God is not capricious or moody. He is not needy and is not offended when we bring honest pain and confusion to him. He might well be offended if we don’t! God neither demands or expects we know his mind perfectly and completely. He demands that he be our refuge (cf. Ps 142.5 and about a hundred other Psalms). God does not expect us to be before him what we think we must be before the church folk in order to appear “Christian.”
Like Job or David, there is a category of Christian that does not question God’s sovereignty, power or justice but does wrestle with God’s care. We do not question what God is able to do to us. We question if God cares about us. We readily confess God does whatever he pleases to whomever he pleases (Ps 115.3). We just want to know that he cares about what effect that providence is going to have on us.
We want to know that he cares that it hurts and is confusing to us. He has every right to wound us but we want to know he will heal what he has wounded. We do not always ask God “What do you think you’re doing?” as though we are the arbiters of what he should think. But we do ask “What are you doing?” so we can rightly direct our prayers and praise.
God’s providence doesn’t always make sense to us, and we shouldn’t always act like it does. The Psalms help to normalize our finite frustrations.
In the end, God has put both his undeterred sovereignty and unrelenting love on display at the cross. The next installment will explore how the cross validates God’s care for his confused children (Heb 2.17). Until then, run to God with your questions and frustrations. He is most honored when we bother him with what bothers us rather than acting like nothing ever does.