To Know God is to Wrestle with God

“O Lord, do not rebuke me in Your anger, nor chasten me in Your wrath. Be gracious to me, O Lord, for I am pining away; heal me, O Lord, for my bones are dismayed.  And my soul is greatly dismayed; but You, O Lord—how long?  Return, O Lord, rescue my soul; save me because of Your lovingkindness.  For there is no mention of you in death; in Sheol who will give You thanks?  I am weary with my sighing; every night I make my bed swim, I dissolve my couch with my tears.  My eye has wasted away with grief; it has become old because of all my adversaries” (Psalm 6.1-7).

Spiritual maturity demands many lessons be learned the hard way.  Indeed, the hardest way.  Truth-with-a-capital-T comes with scars.  Great peace often follows great pain.  Robust Christian faith and hope are not served on silver platters but often as desserts after a bitter meal.  The Lord’s goodness tastes sweetest after sin’s swill.

“Until the evil man finds evil unmistakably present in his existence, in the form of pain, he is enclosed in illusion. Once pain has roused him, he knows that he is in some way or other ‘up against’ the real universe: he either rebels (with the possibility of a clearer issue and deeper repentance at some later stage) or else makes some attempt at an adjustment, which, if pursued, will lead him to religion. . . . No doubt Pain as God’s megaphone is a terrible instrument; it may lead to final and unrepented rebellion. But it gives the only opportunity the bad man can have for amendment. It removes the veil; it plants the flag of truth within the fortress of a rebel soul” (C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain).

In Psalm 6, we read of King David as anything but kingly.  What nation would make their king’s weakness a centerpiece of its worship? We want our presidents appearing “presidential.” If our president cries we certainly don’t sing about it!  In fact, we might well lampoon him.  We don’t write congregational songs about our leaders’ failures and fears.  Yet, David’s tears sets us up for the King to come, the King who would enjoin himself to us in great humility, scars and suffering.  Bear-wrestling, Goliath-killing, Philistine-shaming David was reduced to a mere shell of his former majesty.  He has no war songs left.  No pep talks for his men.  There was no fight left in him and that was worth some song-singing at church.

Psalm 6 must be lived to be understood. Even then we will only scratch the surface until we see the nail-scarred Hands for ourselves.  Until then we’re left to scrounge together scraps fallen from the Master’s  table.

Profound despair is God’s means of leaving us empty of all but God.  God is big enough to handle our questions. God is big enough to endure our rants against him. God is big enough to field our confusing questions and doubts.  But in the end God himself will make sure you are dealing with him and him alone. Where else could David go? If he suffered, he had only God to question. If he was saved, he had only God to thank. If he hurt, he had only God to petition.

Dear brothers and sisters, in the end if we’re to be mad then we’ll be mad at God.  But it won’t be for long. If we’re to cry out we will cry out to God. If we will question we will beg God for answers. We kick and scream in God’s loving arms. And when we are saved it will be because God mercifully saves the petulant and puny.

We often want answers more than we want God. And many of us only know God the extent we have answers, to the extent everything in our life is neat and tidy and explainable. God knows that and isn’t pouting about it. He’s not nearly as put out with us as we often are with him. He will invite us into the ring for a 15-round heavyweight title bout. He will let us punch and kick and rant and rave. But he will never leave the ring. And when we’ve thrown our last punch he will come to our corner and bind up our wounds.

God will indeed wound us deeply. But only so that he can truly heal us. And in the end we will want him more than we want answers.  God will not let his children hate him.

Profound despair strips everything away to be confronted with the reality of God. We exist solely by his will and depend wholly on his care for sinners.

In the end, Psalm 6 leads us to really one ultimate place: remember Christ. As much as we might think ourselves acquainted with despair and sorrow, God knows far more about it than we could ever imagine.

“Now My soul has become troubled; and what shall I say, ‘Father, save Me from this hour’? But for this purpose I came to this hour. Father, glorify Your name. Then a voice came out of heaven: ‘I have both glorified it, and will glorify it again'” (Jn 12.27-28).

God does not bring us into despair because he is amused by punishing us. He does it so it we will be acquainted with Christ as Christ was acquainted with us. He does it so we will see that no matter how much suffering we endure we endure it neither alone or purposelessly.

“He was despised and forsaken of men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; And like one from whom men hide their face He was despised, and we did not esteem Him. Surely our griefs He Himself bore, and our sorrows He carried; yet we ourselves esteemed Him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted” (Is 53.3-4).

God reminds us we are in a far worse predicament then we could ever imagine. The gospel reminds us he has endured that predicament for the sake of sinners. We plumb the depths of God at the cross where Jesus entrusted his spirit to the very one who had forsaken him. And this for you and me.

“It is overwhelmingly important to reflect on the fact that this psalm and dozens of similar ones are included in Scripture. There is no attempt in Scripture to whitewash the anguish of God’s people when they undergo suffering. They argue with God, they complain to God, they weep before God. Theirs is not a faith that leads to dry-eyed stoicism, but a faith so robust it wrestles with God.

Much of Western spirituality is deficient on both scores: where faith triumphs in adversity, we expect it to be manifest in unmoved resignation, and where faith fails the failure is displayed in doubt that questions the integrity and possibly even the existence of God.

David points to a better way. He does not display stoic resignation, nor does he betray doubt that God exists. Even when he feels abandoned by God, his sense of isolation issues in an emotional pursuit of God who, in his view, is slow to answer. David’s suffering leads him to frank pleading with God, to confession, to tears.

This is a man who is not pursuing a merely intellectual theodicy or a fatalistic resignation. It is a man who wants to know God, to know God experientially” (D.A. Carson, How Long, O Lord?, 67).

The mature Christian is not one who never questions, doubts or struggles. Mature faith wrestles deeply with God without fear of utter condemnation. Mature faith knows that in Christ God heals all the wounds he inflicts.  Let us exhaust ourselves such that when we’re done we have God to show for it.

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