Wrestling with God

When I was nineteen years old, a doctor told me I might have a disease that would allow me only a few more years to live. I had been ill, and, because of my not-so-enviable family genes, a team of doctors was analyzing me in a clinic far from home. I left the clinic that night, knowing the details of the disease and contemplating what it would mean for my life. Back in the apartment where I was staying, I began to send messages to a friend back home in Oregon. I detailed the symptoms I was experiencing, and the ones coming if my diagnosis was accurate.

The very places we already inhabit are places that we have been sent with the good news of Jesus

His response: “The Lord gives and the Lord takes away. May the name of the Lord be praised.”

My response as I read those words: “Jerk-face! Who says that when a friend shares hard stuff?”

Thankfully, I only thought it and didn’t type it back to him. It had taken thirty minutes before I began to question if he was right. If God rules the world, does all I have belong to him anyway? Am I called to praise him even when I wrestle in suffering?

My friend’s message initiated my struggle with God, with pounding questions in cycles of suffering to come.

Indescribable Loss and Incompetent Comforters

Job was blameless in the eyes of God, as well as rich in commerce, greatness, and family. He feared God, caring about what God thought first and foremost. There was still a cosmic debate. Satan questioned Job’s motivations, so God allowed Satan to take Job’s possessions, children, and, eventually, his health. His response was what my friend referenced—he praised God (Job 1:21, 2:10). Nevertheless, Job mourned.

As good friends, the comforters gathered first with kindness in silence. However, when the silence was broken, so was the peace. After Job’s opening expressions of despair and anger came a deluge of accusations, assumptions, and insinuations. Job’s friends knew God better than Job, so, of course, they were right. “Job must have sinned,” they said, “or God would not have allowed this evil to happen to him.”

They were master over-simplifiers. They turned the biblical wisdom literature into formulas. “Bad things happen to bad people and good things to good people,” they reiterated incessantly. Job must be bad. His only hope was to repent so that God could restore him.

Job defended himself for three rounds, responding to his friends before the cycle began again. “I am innocent,” he maintained. His friends were wrong. In his grief, Job described his pain and the character of God, all the while he was pleading for God to do something, to respond. Job knew God had put him where he was (19:6-7), yet he also knew that God would vindicate him. God was righteous and still his hope (27:1-22).

Then a fourth junior team friend speaks; Elihu comes with a more moderate position. He says that neither the friends nor Job is right, and, with an air of authority, he declares that he knows. While his argument isn’t perfectly correct either, he does shift the conversation from centering on Job and humanity’s iniquity to the majesty and faithfulness of God.

In my apartment late that fearful night, I didn’t have accusers or bad theologians as friends. But those did come later—“Your suffering was generated by God’s anger at your sin.” This allegation related to my health, my circumstances, as well as other kinds of suffering. Like Job, I’ve sometimes responded with strong words to those who told me this. Like Job, I’ve wrestled with questions about physical, emotional, and relational pain. Like Job, I’ve needed to hear from God himself.

The Astounding Interview

The LORD God answered Job out of a whirlwind. God gave him the interview he had been begging for. But the conversation consisted of questions for Job to answer, rather than the planned questions for God. God brought perspective through this correction, reminding Job of his place. He allowed Job to reexamine who he was and who God was. Job was not God. Job does not see it all. Job did not create the world; he does not rule it now. So can Job judge God? Can he evaluate if God is doing what he should?

God reminds him of the wild, dangerous, and beautiful world that exists. Through the examples of the Behemoth and the Leviathan, God shows Job this world is not tame. It is complex. Job responds with faith, faith in God’s words and God’s role. He changes his mind and is finally comforted.

In all of this, God does not condemn Job and is not provoked to punishment. He vindicates Job and tells the “friends” that they need Job’s prayers to avoid punishment from God, whom they represented falsely.

Faith in Pain

I find great hope in the fact that the struggle of Job was not condemned. Job fought to understand. He sought to know the character of God combined with what he saw happening to him. God saw and engaged. And he held him up as the righteous one among his friends. God vindicated Job by showing him that his suffering was not due to sin. But Job needed more. Later in history, the Redeemer Job hoped for came to bring the fullness of his hope (Job 19:25). Jesus mediates for us so that we can come to God with our questions and wrestle with hope. Hope because we know his response will be only love and discipline, never God’s anger towards our sin—because our Redeemer took all of that forever.

The book of Job doesn’t answer why God allows suffering. It doesn’t give us impersonal truths to cling to; instead, the focus lands squarely on faith—the faith of Job to trust in the One who he knows is allowing him to suffer. The book of Job models choosing hope in redemption from the God who brings pain into our lives.

Many years later, I am still alive. The next morning the diagnosis the doctors had feared was eliminated as a possibility. But the truth still remained—God gives and takes away. I wanted to praise him no matter what. Suffering, hardship, and pain come to us in this dangerous world. Sometimes it is because of our own sin, directly or indirectly. Other times it is not.

I still wrestle sometimes. We will all likely wrestle like Job at some point in our lives, asking God to answer. The same God-in-the-whirlwind will engage us as struggling sufferers with truth. He will meet us with a reminder of what our Redeemer has done, as the full answer to our suffering. He will comfort us with hope. And he will humble us by telling us that he is still God.

Yes, Lord, you are. And we praise you.

Taylor Turkington has worked for a church in the Portland area for the last six years, teaching, discipling, and training. She loves being involved in the equipping and encouraging of people for the work God has given them. Before her church life, Taylor worked as a missionary in Eastern Europe and graduated from Western Seminary with an M.A. in Biblical and Theological Studies. Currently, Taylor is a student at Western in the D.Min. program. She loves teaching the Bible and speaks at seminars, retreats, and conferences. Taylor is a co-founder and co-director of the Verity Fellowship.