“If four workers can build a shed in fifteen hours, how many workers will it take to build a shed in three hours?” Who cares!
Alright, the manager of the project might care. But there is no such person because this question is nothing more than a devious word problem designed to drive us crazy when we were taking tests as students. To make matters worse, we were warned not to ask questions during the test, but to read the problem again and choose the best answer.
Maybe this is why I have always been a little reluctant to question God about my circumstances. After all, He is God, and according to the Bible, He doesn’t make mistakes. Thus, when I encounter a trial that doesn’t make sense, I face a quandary. Do I dare question God? And what do I hope to gain by doing so?
It wasn’t until I worked through the Old Testament book of Job during a graduate class that I began to find help for this dilemma in the theology of “contending.” Up until that time, I had never considered the practice, and the closest I had stood to anyone contending with the Almighty was an Alcoholics Anonymous session where the leader made an obscene gesture at God and cussed. I was attending with a friend who wanted me to consider opening our church building up to the group. I passed.
I am not qualified to, nor have the intention of presenting a full commentary on Job’s experience. However, I can summarize the lessons he taught me that have altered how I converse with God. Job’s suffering was not a result of sin, as his friends suggested, but he did sin in questioning God’s wisdom with his limited perspective. When God had heard enough, He spoke out of a whirlwind: “Who is this that darkens my counsel with words without knowledge? Brace yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer me.” (Job 38:2-3)
What strikes me most is the fact Job survived his wrestling match with God. Later, he despised himself and repented in “dust and ashes” (Job 42:6). But he lived to walk with God on earth another day.
This doesn’t mean God disregards our sinful thoughts or statements just because we are in the midst of a personal storm. He understands our trials, but He still holds us accountable.
Yet, I am convinced there is another sin that carries more potential for harm than anything we might say to God in a moment of passion. In Genesis 4 Cain and Abel offered sacrifices to God. God rejected Cain’s sacrifice, but accepted Abel’s, perhaps because it didn’t represent his best.
Cain didn’t handle God’s rejection well. The Bible says, “So Cain was very angry, and his face was downcast.” (Gen 4:5 NIV) And that’s where he stayed. God tried to engage him in a conversation and warned him, “sin is crouching at your door.” (Gen 4:7 NIV). But Cain’s anger boiled and he continued to look away from God. In this state of mind, it isn’t hard to comprehend how Cain plotted his brother’s murder and carried out his evil deed in an open field.
Cain killed, in part because he refused to talk. Had he contended with God over the rejection of his sacrifice he might have sinned as well, but at least he would have settled the matter and possibly repented of his wrong. Instead, he allowed jealousy to take root in his heart and compounded his problems.
Sinning in the process of contending is bad, but refusing to contend can be worse because it allows Satan to eat away at our core uncontested. As a result, I have learned to raise my hand and question God, not as a means of putting Him on trial, but of acknowledging my frustration and seeking divine guidance.
Have you ever disagreed with God? How did you deal with your disagreement?
God, give me the courage to come to you when I have a dispute, and the wisdom not to sin in doing so. In Jesus’ name, Amen.