Wrestling that Leads to a Broken Hallelujah
by Sharon Betters
Though He slay me, yet will I hope in Him.
Our son Mark’s death stripped away all religious pretenses. I wanted, no I needed to know that everything I had taught, everything I said I believed about the love and sovereignty of God for me, for each of His children was true. That awful night, I wasn’t sure. That night, instead of placing me in a cocoon of grace where I experienced deep grief but never questioned God’s purposes or presence, God gave me the gift of wrestling.
I hated that gift. I didn’t want it. I wanted to be that amazing bereaved mother who encouraged others with her deep faith and trust in the Lord. I wanted that glow that comes from Jesus living in my heart. Instead, my wounded heart struggled to reconcile God’s love with His sovereignty. As we saw our son’s lifeless body, my heart cried, “Lord, I need to trust everything I have taught and believed is true, but right now I’m not so sure. I won’t pretend to trust You, so if anyone tells me they see Jesus in me, it will be Him they see and not my attempts to pretend faith.” I needed to know that Jesus flowed through me even while I struggled to trust God’s sovereignty and love. This was the moment where only Jesus could redeem my broken heart.
In time, I realized that my wrestling was God’s gift to me, a gift He planned to give to His children who needed to know that He is not afraid of our questions or doubts. I rested in the truth that the whole time we are beating on His chest, He holds us tightly in His grip. My conclusion about the purpose of the gift of wrestling is rooted in my theology. We’ll dig deeper into that in the next few weeks, but for now, let’s unpack the idea of wrestling as a gift that enables and equips us to sing a broken hallelujah.
About a month after Mark’s death I asked Chuck to get me a new Bible because I knew that God was taking me on a journey and I didn’t want to miss any life lessons or treasures along the way. I wanted a permanent record of my journey. I planned to mark up that Bible with dates and messages that recorded my wrestling journey with my God.
A war raged in my heart but I had no fear in running to my Father with those conflicting emotions. My theology taught me that I was God’s child, not because of my good works, but because of the sacrifice of Jesus. His sacrifice covered even my dark thoughts and what might seem like heretical questions to others. My God would not reject me, no matter what questions I asked or emotions I hurled at Him. Perhaps I took liberties with my pounding on His chest, because of the confidence that the harder I pounded or the louder I wailed, the tighter He held me. Years later in my journal I wrote:
“I think about what I call the gift of wrestling and I am tempted to believe that was not God’s plan for me at all. Perhaps I had a choice that night – maybe God was ready to wrap me in a cocoon of grace, where I experienced pain but never felt hurt or betrayed by my heavenly Father. Maybe I wrestled because I refused God’s grace. Because I am so broken and sinful, I can accept that might be what happened. But in my heart, I know that if I could have immediately rested in God, experienced the glow of grace, the amazing peace that others have felt in the darkness, I would have grabbed it. I wanted it, I begged God for it. So I am convinced that was not the gift He prepared for me in the midst of grief. Instead He gave me the gift of wrestling and I am better for it.”
I recently asked a friend if she thought such wrestling was acceptable to God. A wounded woman herself, she said, “First, there are numerous examples of God’s people who wrestled with God. Just read the Psalms for starters. Second, check which way you’re facing when you are lamenting. Are you running toward God with hands open, or away from God with hands clenched?” That’s an important question.
It didn’t take long to find that I was in good company. Throughout Scripture a multitude of people wrestled with their theology in order to trust God. Let’s take a quick look at the book of Job for a glimpse of how a man who trusted God, but lost everything had responded to the devastation.
You know the story. God not only gave the devil permission to test Job, He actually pointed out Job to Satan. One by one, Satan destroyed Job’s treasures including all of his children. Listen to Job’s response:
Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart.
The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised.
In all this, Job did not sin by charging God with wrongdoing.
To his accusing friends who told him he must have sinned for God to punish him this way, Job declared:
Though he slay me, yet will I hope in him….
Job 13:15 a
Job sings a broken hallelujah, but he doesn’t stop there, Job continued:
I will surely defend my ways to His face.
Job does just that throughout the book of Job as one of the greatest spiritual wrestling matches begins. Job’s suffering challenged his theology and the theology of his friends. They believed that if you were “good” and you served God, God would bless and prosper you.
That’s why Job’s friends insisted he must have secret sin and that if he would just confess it, God would prosper him once more. Job’s circumstances terrified his friends. If their core belief was wrong, that God owed them when they did their best, then no matter how hard they tried, they could lose everything, too.
Often that’s why we wrestle with God when darkness falls. Suffering tests our theology. We will struggle even more to sing praises and pray at midnight if our view of God is skewed.
Read the book of Job to dig into the conversation God had with Job, but listen to his heart breaking lament to God:
How I long for the months gone by, for the days when God watched over me, when His lamp shone upon my head and by His light I walked through darkness! Oh, for the days when I was in my prime, when God’s intimate friendship blessed my house, when the Almighty was still with me and my children were around me, when my path was drenched with cream and the rock poured out for me streams of olive oil……
Job describes how he was honored, respected and a servant, one who met the needs of the helpless, those who had no one else….in other words, I did what you wanted me to do, God, and I did it joyfully, and now that I plead for relief, no one seems to care, especially you, Oh God:
And now my life ebbs away; days of suffering grip me. Night pierces my bones; my gnawing pains never rest. In His great power God becomes like clothing to me; He binds me like the neck of my garment. He throws me into the mud, and I am reduced to dust and ashes. I cry out to You, O God, but You do not answer; I stand up, but You merely look at me. You turn on me ruthlessly; with the might of Your hand You attack me. You snatch me up and drive me before the wind…Surely no one lays a hand on a broken man when he cries for help in his distress. Have I not wept for those in trouble? Has not my soul grieved for the poor? Yet when I hoped for good, evil came. When I looked for light, then came darkness. The churning in me never stops; days of suffering confront me.
Job’s theology was skewed; just as his friends’ thinking was wrong. They all believed that if you were good, God owed you, but Job knew he was a righteous man so something had to be wrong with their thinking.
God used grief to change Job’s theology.
In the next chapters God responds powerfully and in no uncertain terms He reveals His character to Job. I imagine Job bowing lower and lower as each word of God takes down Job’s pride in his own performance.
Jobs response to God’s strong words concludes with Job singing a broken hallelujah:
Then Job answered the Lord and said:
I know that You can do all things, and that no purpose of Yours can be thwarted.
Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?
Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me,
which I did not know. Hear, and I will speak; I will question You,
and You make it known to me. I had heard of You by the hearing of the ear,
but now my eye sees You; therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes.
In the margin of my Bible, dated 3/7/95, about 20 months after the death of Mark, I wrote in response to Job’s words: “Pain opens our eyes to truth. Will I ever say what Job says?”
My answer today over twenty-five years later, is a resounding yes. With Job I declare as a broken hallelujah:
I had heard of You by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees You;
We cannot miss the driving force of Job’s submission. The more intimate he became with God, the more he recognized God’s grace and mercy covering him. He saw his sinful heart in a way that crumbled his pride. The more he saw of grace, the more he wanted and he realized that grace streamed to him in spite of his sinful heart:
Therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes.
Have you experienced God’s grace in a way that compels you to sing a broken hallelujah, a song that declares God’s goodness and undeserved mercy in the middle of a dark night? Perhaps you are in that dark night because of your own sinful choices. Soak in the words of Micah, the prophet and offer your sinful heart to Jesus, the shepherd who will not leave behind one of His lambs:
Who is a God like You, pardoning iniquity and passing over the transgression of the remnant of His heritage? He does not retain His anger forever, because He delights in mercy. He will again have compassion on us, and will subdue our iniquities.
You will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea.
Oh Lord, thank You that You do not reject us when we struggle to reconcile Your love with Your sovereignty. Thank you that You hold us tightly in Your grip, comforting us with Your faithful love.