Monday, January 08, 2007

Faith Journeys – Part 1 - Wrestling and questioning God

This is going to be a messy, real section to my blog where I explore the bible and relate it to where I am going on my journey – at the moment it will be exploring the Old Testament and the discoveries I am finding in the Old Testament at the moment. Much of the Stuff I’ve discovered I’ve found through reading and the occasional accidental truth I’ve found on this adventure through life so far. I plan to try and be a bit provocative in this section (as that is how I feel I should be at the moment.)

Wrestling With God
At this point on my journey with God I am truly wrestling with him and trying to discover what he wants from me and where he wants me to go in this journey and the adventure with Him. I spent a lot of the past couple of years rediscovering faith and rediscovering the truth of the Gospel. I have argued, questioned God on his character, his sovereignty, doubted over the truth, then came crying in repentance for my sins with a new desire to serve him, but continually wrestling with him, asking him what to do next, why I am where I am where I am, why he allows bad things to happen to good people around me. I have prayed, petitioned and questioned. I come to this point I will make the point “its not what you know its who you know”

Faith is real, it isn’t boxed in, and God isn’t boxed in by our images of him. It has to deal with the real harsh facts of life. In the world we live in nothing is rosy. We struggle with suffering, death, pain, hardship, doubts, fears and many other things. I know this for myself. The reality of the Christian journey is that it isn’t easy. It is messy confusing and sometimes damn depressing.

Our faith journey is one of “Following knowing and seeking after [God], living a life motivated from a loving relationship with him” … which is … “much different than adhering to a code, an ideology, a worldview. That reduces the person to facts, truths, propositions and truth. (The words of Mike Brantley. A Friend, Mentor, Brother in Christ in an email recently to me). The result is faith is inherently messy and difficult. It allows for doubts and questions of God.

I will look at the Old Testament because it contains the stories of Gods relationship with People, but also the relationship of People with their God. These people are real people, dealing with real questions (Such as “How can God, who loves us, formed a covenant with us and said that he would always honour that covenant, let bad things happen to his people. Such as the enslavement and exile of our people, the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple and lead us into a pagan land where we cannot serve our God.) Many of the people in the Old Testament have tough testing questions that they ask of God, they wrestle in their prayers with God, they physically wrestle with God and nearly win, and they ask God for an audience with him. They shout, scream, cry, fight with God and show their disappointment with God, then on the next page they sit quietly listening to God, they dance through the streets of Jerusalem praising him for his power, showing joy which makes them look like a drunken madman, they praise and honour God in the temple and throughout the world. They have bad days with God, so so days with God, Great days with God, and sorrowful days with God. All emotions are shown in this relationship.

Faith is real, its tough, it allows us to ask the hard questions of God, to be real with him, to sit at his feet and just listen, to argue, to praise, to be who we are, true humans, dealing with the messy reality we live in. Through this, we learn, we are changed, we develop hope, perseverance, love, compassion, joy and many other qualities. Through true relationship, we come to know God more and more, and come to learn more and more about who he really is to us. Then we can share this with those around us

Job, Faith and the Ingredients of Discovering a Real Faith
I am taking some of what I write from Philip Yanceys Book “The Bible Jesus Read” as well as my own struggles through the pain of losing my father to cancer for this section. Jobhas come to relate well to many people who have faced the hardships of Life. Its one of the books that I’m amazed managed to get into the Bible because it struggles to actually answer the question that we usually apply to it “If God is Good, then why do good people suffer?” Many modern Christians have come to believe that having faith in God means that Life should be safe happy, healthy and easy going, which in my view is just crap. Prosperity preachers do this all the time, saying that if you send a “faith offering” to their ministry you will receive good health and a good life. Sometimes I wonder if it’s the total opposite to this in reality. Those who have the strong faiths are not the ones who everything are going happily and well and they are eating from the best vines, drinking the best expressos etc but those who seem to be forsaken by God, those in prison for their faith in China, those who live in poverty in India for the sake of the Gospel, those martyred for the faith in many other countries, facing scorn and ostracism from their country man. So if God is good, why does he let good people suffer? Is it because God is a sadist? Is it because God doesn’t really care? Is its God punishing us for sin?

There is actually no answer to this in the bible. As I write these words I struggle with them myself.

So what is Job about, why is this book in the bible, why do I consider this story full of depression, suffering, hardship, abandonment one of my favourite bible stories, why does it scare me, make me hopeful and change me!

The beginning of this story shows us the cosmic scene been played out in Heaven. God shows the devil his most devote follower on earth, Job. The Devil questions the reason for Jobs devout behaviour. He argues that God has given him an easy road because of his faith. He believes that Job would curse God and give up on God if it wasn’t as easy. For God, this is a risky situation; he is being challenged on his character. Does his subject love God know matter what the pains of life throw on him, or will he fall because of the pressure of what crap he goes through. God tests out his subject in an epic wager of character and faith.

Philip Yancey in his book The Bible Jesus Read profoundly suggests that the book of Job is not about suffering, but is about faith. Like the rest of the Old Testament it deals with life with “flagrants realism and a tantalizing glimpse of Hope” (Yancey, The Bible Jesus Read, p.47)

On earth, Job loses everything, goes through losing everything that he holds dear. His friends, holy, astute, learned men, assume that because God is good, righteous, and punishes those who are bad people. They come to Job, who has suffered the death of his children, his wifes abandonment, the loss of his entire income, household, etc and say that the reason this has occurred is because he has sinned and God is punishing him for this sin. For Job the facts do not add up. He’s the type of guy who will pray to God for the whole day, fast, pray and sacrifice animals for the protection of his own family and never cursed God. He probably believed that the reason he was so well off and God has blessed him because he was such a righteous man. His worldview is damaged and destroyed as he sees the destruction of all he owns. He believes that he has done nothing wrong, and argues constantly for 33 chapters with his friends on his character and the character of God. He asks why a just God allows suffering to strike those who are Righteous and the Ungodly get to live in wealth, happiness and good fortune. He questions, desires answers, and finally asks his God for an audience.

Throughout this, his friends look on, trying to convince Job that he is in the wrong, how can he question Gods righteousness, his justness, his power. The probable point for Job is that he has nothing to lose in questioning God, if he dies, he stops suffering! Anyway I digress. Job asks his friends to just plain shut up, they don’t understand, and he just wants a bit of peace and quiet. They continue to berate him, and can’t understand why he won’t confess his sin, his sinfulness can be seen by the way he talks about God, questioning Gods character, how can he do this, then the nerve of asking God for an audience. God is all powerful, all loving, all knowing, he has done right, that’s that, deal with it, they say. This just continues to make the matters worse for poor Job.

Job has the nerve to ask God for an audience, and God turns up in a whirlwind, upsetting the situation a bit further. God responds in a magnificent speech, talks about his grandness, his power. It doesn’t deal with suffering at all! God comes out and steals the show, putting Job in the dock.

And the Lord made answer to Job out of the storm-wind, and said,
Who is this who makes the purpose of God dark by words without knowledge?
Get your strength together like a man of war; I will put questions to you, and you will give me the answers. (Job 38:2-3)

The Whole tale of Hardship, suffering, questioning, throughout the book, has been about Jobs faith, and whether it can weather the storms and hardships of life. Whether when all is lost, whether Job can hold onto God, and believe in his character, Job questions much, and probably ends up believing in a much different God than he believed at the start of the Journey, but he never cursed him. Jobs response to Gods questions of him is to fall down with awe at Gods feet and give him praise. Job is overwhelmed with God and can only do one thing, give him praise.

God wins his wager with Satan, he shows that Humanity can trust in God even when it all turns to crap for those under the microscope. Gods character shines through.

So what have I learned from Job over the years as a Christian?
For me the thing I have learnt is that it is Ok to question God. I believe wholeheartedly that God is strong enough to deal with our hard messy questions that we bring him and he will listen. He won’t always provide the answers we want for our questions, but he will listen to them.

Let people question, wrestle and find God. Let people just fall to their feet and cry and seek after him, even if it is angry, hurtful, hard and messy. God wants us to be real with him. At times we miss the point, but God wants to listen to us. He wants us to be real and have real relationship with him.

It is our job to sit, listen, pray and mourn with those going through the hard times, and try to provide them with loving caring support in anyway possible. But we shouldn’t try and provide answers where there are none possible. I know from my own doubts and searching, those who sit and are wise in their listening and response are the ones who sit still and listen and don’t reply. They are just there. I hate people trying to provide answers when there are none that can be really provided.

The Faith Journey isn’t meant to be easy, I know from my own journey that the times I have grown most in my faith have been the most difficult points in my own faith. At times I haven’t really known whether I’ve been in the right scene and have had to trust in God that there is hope at the end of the tunnel. God cares about our faith. He seems to want us to be totally reliant on him and wants us to let go and have faith in him.

God will shake us up to change us. I have an image running in my head at the moment of a Tsunami, going across a piece of land changing everything, it is destructive and creative. For me it is an image of revival. The way revival of saints and change of nations happens is the shaking up of Christians. This is going to be hard, painful change in peoples of life (or I reckon it is) and causes people to be totally reliant on God and his character.

Job has provided for me hope and realism in the hard places. I thank God that He put this book in the bible so that I can come to it with my questions and wrestling’s with God, my father, friend and comforter.

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