Wrestling With God (What I Do When I Don’t Like What I Read in the Bible)
Sometimes I don’t like what the Bible has to say.
Sometimes I read it and think “Uhhhh… what’s up with this right here, God?!?!” And then He and I have a bit of a wrestling match over it all.
This is what “hashing it out with God” looks like for me: First, I usually tell God all my honest thoughts and feelings about what I read— I typically do this in writing (to keep myself focused and thorough, and to be able to revisit it later). And then, after getting all my initial thoughts out, I then buckle down and study more about the historical and literary context of what I read. I will research the location, author, audience, culture, etc of the time, read commentaries on it, look up maps of that era, and scrutinize every single footnote or addendum in my Study Bible about it. I’ll also listen to scholarly teachings and read other applicable books or articles that look like they might prove helpful. Lastly, I will also talk to wise friends, mentors, and fellow truth-seekers about whatever I am discovering (or whatever is bothering me about what I’m learning). All the while, I continue talking to God, and writing it all out, as I process through all I am learning. My goal is always truth. And the wisdom to know what to do with the truth I discover.
Sometimes these wrestling matches with God last days; other times they might go on for many years. Sometimes the process is exciting and fun and filled with interesting discoveries. Other times it is excruciatingly painful and I fear I’ll never recover from the trauma of it all.
Sometimes, after struggling with God awhile, I will come to realize I was “off” in my original assumption and then I will allow myself to form an entirely new opinion. Other times I remain discontent with what I discover and I let God know I’m still unhappy with what I’ve learned. In those cases, that topic becomes an ongoing “open tab” that I continue grappling with God about.
But always, no matter how hard the struggle is, I always find myself running back to God and asking Him for His insight and wisdom on it all. Like Jacob, I refuse to give up my search for truth until I genuinely feel like I’ve heard from God. Somewhere deep inside myself I believe that God is good, that He loves me, that He has the answers, and that He will meet with me and lead me to the truth. Somewhere inside my soul, I agree with Peter’s response when Jesus asked Peter if he was going to leave Jesus for some other worldview (because Peter had just bumped into a hard teaching from Jesus): “Lord, to whom shall we go?” Peter says, “You have the words of eternal life.”
As G.K. Chesterton wrote in his classic Orthodoxy, “When belief in God becomes difficult, the tendency is to turn away from Him; but in heaven’s name to what?”
That’s it for me, too.
Even when God is the One who is frustrating me, even when God is the One who I’m having issues with, even when God is the One I blame for doing something that angers or hurts or confuses me… I can’t help but dive deep into Him to try to get some truth and solace and clarity on it all. ((Sidenote: If you want to read more about this issue of finding God in the midst of suffering, or whether or not praying or seeking God even matters, this article might be a good starting place for you. This teaching series is great also.))
Some of you know that I am journeying through Isaiah (via the She Reads Truth reading plan) throughout this year’s Lenten season. This is my first time doing such a thing. And, so far, it has been really insightful and interesting. Not easy, mind you— but eye-opening, educational, and intensely rewarding.
But I’ve got to be honest with you: some of it has been challenging for me.
One of the readings last week, for example, was an especially difficult one for me. Something in one of the chapters struck me in a particularly disturbing way. Thus, I’ve been in serious “wrestling mode” with God for a chunk of days now. I’ve been spending all my extra moments for the past several days reading commentaries, refreshing my memory about biblical history, looking at maps of the world during Isaiah’s time, and listening to apologetics on this issue. I’ve been diving deep into study and deep into discussion with friends and deep into prayer as I hash it all out with God. I want insight. I want wisdom. I want to hear what He has to tell me about this. I am hungry for truth.
Do you ever find yourself contending with these types of issues? If so, I’d love to point you in the direction of some of what I’ve found helpful over the past week:
- First off, Ravi Zacharias, one of the great apologists of our time, is absolutely fantastic at looking at all kinds of tricky biblical and religious issues and finding a way to explain them in logical (though sometimes mind-bending, astounding) ways. Here is a link to a short clip of a Q&A he participated in during April 2015 wherein he addresses the biggest objections to Christianity. (Although, truth be told, because context is so important to keep in mind, I highly recommend the entire unedited version of this particular Q&A.)
- And here is another apologist, Michael Ramsden, tackling the topic of the so-called dichotomy of the “God of Love vs God of Judgement,” which is an issue that I have wanted to learn more about since beginning my study of Isaiah.
- And here is a link to the Matthew Henry Complete Commentary on Isaiah 13 (which is the passage I got tripped up on last week).
If you are like me— you’ve got an eagerness to learn, a willingness to think critically, and an openness to engage in honest, though hard, personally-transparent discussions— please join me in the comment section or email me (firstname.lastname@example.org) to continue this discussion or to share links to resources you have found insightful. I always love to hear how you, too, are wrestling with your faith (or lack thereof).
I’m praying for you. Feel free to pray for me, too.
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What about you?
What do you do when you bump into issues in life that cause you to become frustrated or angry or confused with God and/or the Bible? How do you process through a crisis of faith?
Please share your journey in the comment section below.