Wrestling God: Meeting in the Messy Middle
So you may or more likely may not have noticed that I haven’t blogged a single, solitary time this summer. There are reasons for this. One being that I am starting a new job in the fall. Still teaching. But a dramatic shift. I can no longer rely on the fact that I had literally read aloud my content 37 times. I could quote some of the novels from memory. Kids were in awe when I could find the quote they were looking for in a 228 page book in under five seconds. To those seventh graders, I was some sort of knowledge wizard.
Those days are gone.
This summer I read/re-read and annotated a ton classic literature in the hopes that I don’t disappoint a group of seniors who will need to take an advanced placement test after I teach them (many of whom I taught as seventh graders when I firmly maintained my wizard genius status). Seventh Grade Teacher Me is a lot to live up to. I also took a graduate class in the hopes that I would be equipped to facilitate a journalism class. Both keeping them churning out hard-hitting news while also keeping them from libel, slander, copyright infringement, etc. No biggie, right? Totes got an A, but still not super confident I can do all that listed above in actual practice. In addition, I kept my five and seven year-old alive and not merely surviving, but we crushed that summer library program and swimming lessons like bosses.
So yes, I’ve been busy. But that’s not my only excuse for the lack of words…
The real reason for radio silence has been the spiritual wrestling I’ve been doing this summer. Like weighty Jacob of Genesis 32 God wrestling.
I find myself wondering if I am the only one that feels like all the noise--the media, politicians both far right and far left, heck--even or especially--Christian evangelical leaders--is just too certain and too sure of themselves. Too this is always right and that is always wrong. Too proud to know that, especially as it pertains to God, there are things we will never know and understand fully in this life and that, despite being a bitter pill, is how it should be.
Every time I listen to a podcast where a person asserts that they know something to be fact about culture, about the Bible, about policy--I feel the hairs on the back of my neck raise up. I’m not saying there shouldn’t be a dialogue; I just want more humility.
Don’t get it twisted. Moral relativism is not my jam, and I am not advocating for that. Wishy-washy is not an answer to polarizing, know-it-all behavior. Maybe the polarizing rhetoric I’m experiencing literally everywhere is in response to our tiring of the “there are no truths, so everyone just live your own individualistic truth.” Maybe this is just a me thing, and I am noticing it because I have been guilty of it. I don’t know. I feel okay saying that. Just like I feel okay saying that I don’t particularly like either end of the spectrum. I am looking for some messy middle ground. Some give and take. Some moderation.
I’ve been feeling this and wanting to write about it for a while, so I just kept wrestling in the hopes that I would figure it out and be able to enchant my (three) readers with more of my knowledge sorcery. When I wasn’t reading classic literature for school, I was reading books and listening to podcasts from opposing or at least challenging viewpoints from those that I was raised in. That is uncomfortable. And what is more uncomfortable is the realization that many (not all) of the ideals I was raised to adopt growing up in the church don’t ring 100% true with what God’s discerning Spirit within me resonates with.
For example, there are sins the church wants to talk about and because they seem [fill in the blank negative adjective], let’s villainize everyone that falls into that label and completely disregard other places in scripture where God repeatedly reminds us of the real deal-breakers. My hunch is that if I went into any local congregation and asked why Sodom and Gomorrah was destroyed in the O.T., I would get one specific and incorrect answer: sexual immorality.
God’s answer is different, and it might be unpopular because it calls into question our extremely comfy western, middle-class lifestyles: “Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy (Ezekiel 16:49 emphasis added). That doesn’t feel good when I have put all of my eggs into the “I’m a good Christian because I’m not ___________” basket, and then I realize that I am living in direct opposition to the eastern collectivist culture that God chose to set the Bible in… where I am my brother’s keeper, where I live generously now instead of insuring my security for my future, where I put myself last and God and others first.
And that is just one example of how we westernize and mistakenly prioritize, misrepresent and take out of context to fit and serve our own agendas. So sure that we have it right. So sure that God can be whittled down to our human-sized rhetoric.
It’s doubly concerning to me that the leaders on the other side of legalism seem to swing so far in the other direction. The baby gets thrown out with the bathwater. The Bible is hard to read and understand, so let’s just not. Or worse, if there is something I don’t understand, it’s probably just a mistake or untrue or not literal. Let’s just discount it and pick and choose what we believe from it when it fits our own agenda. We don’t want to believe in a holy God because [gasp] we might have to surrender what we want or what feels good at any given moment. We don’t like a righteously angry God because that doesn’t feel warm and fuzzy or politically correct. These same people make statements like “A good God would never [fill in the blank with whatever unpleasantness you think God is incapable of].”
Nope, like no.
Have you even read Job (if not, you totally should)? Talk about a bonkers-bananas God did what now kind of story. God dialogues with Satan. Then He allows Satan to destroy Job’s life...Job, a man who is “good.” Then when Job is all sad and sackcloth and ashy, God verbally destroys Job’s insensitive friends for judging Job and then He gently roasts Job for questioning Him at all...ever...about anything...cuz He’s freaking God.
You just can’t know with God. When His people longed for a conquering king, He sent a baby. When His disciples looked for a take-over, He died on a cross. When they finally accepted He was dead, He resurrected. When I think He’s going to zig, He zags. Not because He is cruel and unknowable, but because He is everywhere and knows everything, and I don’t. I can barely handle the idea of starting a new job and keeping my two children alive. I cannot fathom all that God is and does. It is literally beyond our comprehension.
And I am not saying we should stop trying. I have learned more in this uncomfortable wrestling than I ever would have if I had just joined one of the camps on either side of the spectrum. And it has sucked.It has been really lonely because I feel like I don’t fit anywhere anymore. Doubting and questioning to someone who follows the rules and hates conflict is not fun. It’s akin to getting that hip socket you’ve relied on all those years to walk normally all disjointed and wonky (#Jacobreference). I have gotten to the point where, like Jacob, it is less of a wrestling and more of a desperate cling because I also know I am not going to win in the traditional sense. My prayer has literally been, “I don’t get this, but I am not letting go until you bless me, make me wiser, make me more like You even if I have to walk with this limp for the rest of my days.” You don’t have to understand someone perfectly to know they are good and worth the struggle. And I don’t understand a lot about God because I am not knowledge wizard, but that shouldn’t diminish Him. Sometimes the greatest wisdom is humbly accepting the beauty of something bigger than me.
I don’t know when or if I’ll blog again, honestly. I don’t want to be more polarizing noise. I just want to extend God’s invitation to wrestle Him as weird as that sounds. I just want more people to be okay not knowing all the answers while actively and humbly seeking truth. I just want people to stop being so defensive and rigid and more willing to wade into the messy middle with me.