Wrestle With God’s Word

wrestle with god
“Jacob Wrestling with the Angel,” painted by Alexander Louis Leloir, 1865

 

This blog was technically my husband’s idea.  As I got into the habit of nightly Bible study, he would burst out laughing at my over-the-top excitement over each new revelation, question, or problem I came across in Scripture.  At some point he suggested I start sharing my “honest thoughts from a beginner in the Bible” publicly. He said that other people would be going through the same experience and might enjoy seeing someone share thoughts about it on the internet.

Oh, how I love that man.

So here I am, and I eventually want to start making posts about each book of the Bible as I finish reading through it for the first time.  I want to share photos of my margin notes and tell about the questions and doubts I had to get help with from my pastor or from commentaries.  I know that if I’d found a blog with articles like that when I first started, I would have really enjoyed reading them.  I still would!

For now, however, I really want to talk about the problems we can run into as first-time Bible students.  There are parts of the Bible that are going to be difficult, and if we’re going to read the book thoroughly and study it with diligence, we’re going to have to face all of those difficulties head on. When we run into verses, chapters, or even whole books of the Bible that we aren’t sure we can believe in or that we aren’t sure we can agree with, the resulting doubt can actually be frightening.  We’re reading Scripture to strengthen our faith, not burn it down!  Right?

I really want to share all of those un-pleasantries with you just as I experienced them.  I want to show you where I had my problems and I want to tell you about what I found in a commentary, or what my pastor explained to me, or what I figured out through prayer in those passages.  You shouldn’t have to feel alone when you hit a difficult place in Scripture.  You shouldn’t have to think that you’re wrong or bad or sinning when you bring a question to Scripture, either.

The Bible can handle being questioned, and anyone who tells you they never wrestled with God’s word is either lying, hasn’t read it, or doesn’t have the capacity for critical thought.  I say that so decisively because this book is challenging.  This book is ancient.  This book is about people who came from an Eastern culture that bore no resemblance to our own.  I find it extraordinarily difficult to believe that any 21st-century American could actually study this book without hitting a few speed bumps.

Modern Western Christians are taught from childhood to revere the Bible and never to dare questioning its authority and veracity.  I think those lessons originally came from a well-intended place, but the result is frankly disastrous.  It is because of that mindset that we’ve become a nation of people who haven’t ever read this book.  We haven’t been grounded in books like Genesis, Leviticus, 1 Timothy, or 1 Corinthians because they all contain stories, statements, laws, and proclamations that are frankly offensive to secular Western minds and difficult to reconcile with the concept of a loving and merciful God.

Huge swaths of the Old Testament are absolutely soaked in violence.  The Pentateuch is full of rituals that sound an awful lot like the occult practices we’ve always been warned not to meddle in.  The prophetic books occasionally get so freakishly weird and ridiculous that it can wear out our ability to suspend disbelief.

And no one ever gives us permission to say any of these things out loud.

It can make us feel isolated and guilty if we reach an exhaustion point with it.  We can end up feeling alone.  We can be made to feel as though we aren’t allowed to have these questions and concerns, as though we aren’t allowed to be made uncomfortable by Scripture.  So instead of asking someone to help us understand, we just flip over to Proverbs or John 3:16.  We close our Bibles, we set them aside, and we don’t pick them up again.

Well, that’s just stupid.

It’s tragic, too, because it keeps us from receiving the blessings of peace and confidence from understanding God’s Word.  God gave us this book because he wants us to read it.  I seriously doubt that he intended for us to read it without having any thoughts about it along the way.  Trust me, I prayed about it hard, and I felt nothing but peace and permission to approach my Bible with honesty.

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I wrote this the 1st time I read through Genesis, and the margins of that book are full of my upset, confusion, disbelief, and questions. I feel entitled to be honest with God when I study the Bible, and I believe that you should, as well.

Let me confess to you that I got so angry reading Genesis that I had to avoid going back to it for months.  I wouldn’t even turn to Genesis during sermons if my pastor was reading from it for a while, and I finally had to sit down and talk it out with him so I could get back in there and work through my questions.  I’ve gotten snippy, whiny, and downright impertinent with God in the margins of this book.  I talked to Him every single step of the way, and I will continue to do so.

Being open about my doubt was important because this material is really, really hard to metabolize if you scratch more than the surface.  Some of this stuff is 3,000 years old, y’all.  We can’t even fathom that space of time, so of course we’re going to have to work for it.  This book is a masterpiece of ancient literature by every standard, and it goes deep.  There are complex symbol systems, dual meanings, crazy-huge metaphors, and amazing Hebraic art forms in this book.  It is seriously deep stuff.  Anyone who tells you that Bible study is easy or fun all the time…ask them what they’re taking and if you can have some because I ain’t buying it otherwise.

This is going to require work from us, and I don’t believe that the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob expects perfect, passive children.  He made us.  He knows better. I think He wants us to get in there and apply ourselves with open hearts.  He wants us to do this work so that we can believe Him, know Him, and have a relationship with Him.  He wants us to do this work so that we can defend the Bible and display His glory in the world.

No, that isn’t quite right.  I don’t “think” that.  I know it.

It is worth the work, and we’re allowed to do that work honestly.  We’re allowed to feel unpleasant things as we work through it.  We’re allowed to get uncomfortable and defensive and insulted.  The only caveat is that we have to commit to coming back and praying over it and reading it again until we get the answers we’re searching for.  They are all there.  I promise.  I am absolutely convinced that the Bible is the inspired Word of God for his people, and I wasn’t convinced back in October of 2016 when I started all of this.

I went into my Bible totally open, totally willing to receive, and totally committed to being honest with it.  I have railed against the Word.  I have rejoiced in the Word.  I have questioned it boldly and held back nothing.  And God is faithful because the Bible is batting a thousand for me.  I’ve received solid answers and explanations for every question I have raised against it…and I’ve raised more than a fair few.  Sometimes I needed help from my pastor.  Sometimes I needed help from a bible commentary.  Sometimes all I needed was to meditate on it in prayer.  Sometimes, I worked out the answers in conversation with a friend.  But the answers came.  All of them.

In the Gospel of Matthew, Christ tells us:

“But when you pray, go away by yourself, shut the door behind you, and pray to your Father in private.  Then your Father, who sees everything, will reward you.”—Matthew 6:6, NLT

He also says:

“Keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for.  Keep on seeking, and you will find.  Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you.”—Matthew 7:7, NLT

Solitary Bible study, done in a quiet time you carve out of your day, is a form of prayer.  It is a private conversation between you and your Creator, and if you come to it honestly, humbly, patiently, and with prayers for understanding, He will give it to you.  Even if you’re not perfect.  Even if your faith is weak.  Even if you have to wrestle with Scripture and get angry or upset.  He is God.  He loves you, and He is God.  He’s going to help you understand His Word.  You just have to read it and ask.

Dump the guilt and get in there.  It’s gonna be magical.


4 thoughts on “Wrestle With God’s Word

  1. Please forgive me, because I’ve forgotten (but I am reading faithfully!)~did you already share which version of the Bible you like to use? Or do you have a favorite?

    1. The Bible I write in (and take the pictures from) is a New Living Translation.

      I also frequently use a Tanakh translation of the Jewish Study Bible for Old Testament books because it has rabbinical commentary in the margins. I should do a post on that and show you what it’s like.

      Finally, I have an ESV (English Standard Version) Bible that I occasionally compare the NLT to because it is a modern and formal, post-Qumran version with tighter precision in the translation from Hebrew & Aramaic.

      I also OWN a KJV, but I honestly don’t often pull it out.

  2. After reading a few of your posts, I appreciate your transparency regarding Scripture. Although I have been to seminary, I constantly tell people to “wrestle” with Scripture. I have seen way too many conform to what a seminary or denomination taught them and later fall apart when life did not align with what they were taught. I have no problem questioning a system and digging into the Bible for myself. At the end of the day, no two people will agree on a biblical conclusion. We can, however, get along despite those differences. I look forward to reading future posts.

    1. Thank you for reading it! Studying Scripture never worked for me on any level until I dropped all of the notions I had about how it was supposed to look and just approached it with total honesty. I allowed myself to be insulted or angry, and then the reasons and the context answered me back. I never saw the grace or the love or the miraculous power of God in the Bible until I was able to do it this way. I was appalled by all the basic things I didn’t know about Scripture, but I’m in it now, and I don’t think I’ll ever get out of it. Ha ha

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