Arguing with the Author: The Futility and Necessity of Wrestling with God

“Child,’ said the Lion, ‘I am telling you your story, not hers. No one is told any story but their own.’”
–CS Lewis, The Horse and His Boy.

Aslan-Narnia-320x480In my last post, I talked about Story, and the ways in which God is a story-telling God. I used the rooms of recovery as an example of how our friends the recovering addicts have discovered that Story is the most powerful way to learn about the ways in which God works in the lives of everyday people sickened with the disease of addiction.  The Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous is composed of two parts: the first 164 pages lays out the “Program” of how the earliest AAs recovered from the fatal disease of alcoholism; but then the second section, which may be even more powerful to read, consists of several hundred pages of stories—dozens and dozens of stories about individual recoveries. The Bible, too, for all of the misconceptions, even amongst Christians, that it is some kind of theological or ethical treatise, is really a collection of stories about God and God’s people, and in and through those stories we can see the Macro-Story: “How God Intervened in History and Saved His People, Parts I and II.”

I concluded in this last blog that it must be the nature of God to be a Story-telling God, and that it is in and through our own stories that we can know God and begin to discover how God is working in our lives.  We are, in some very real ways, hardwired for Story, and will do well to think of our own lives in terms of the story that God is writing with and through us.

Lovely. Terrific. Yay for God; yay for me.

But there’s a catch.  Sometimes the story falls apart. Sometimes the Author seems to be out to lunch. Earthquakes bury children; wicked dictators gas their own people; whole peoples starve to death in one part of the world while self-absorbed consumerism thrives elsewhere.  What in hell happened to the Story?  What kind of Author is this, anyway?

I ask because my wife is dying, and I’m angry about it. Really angry. Like, take-a-baseball-bat-to-a-tree-angry, like, stand-outside-at-midnight-and-roar-at-the-stars-angry. Like, gonna-burn-my-Bible-angry.

This was not the plan. This was not supposed to be part of the Story. Last July, when Sabine and I stood in our lovely garden, surrounded by family and friends, enveloped in the blazing summer sunshine, when we exchanged solemn vows—each of us having overcome broken hearts and broken dreams to trust again, to love again, to say “I do and I will” again—on that day, a fatal diagnosis within five months was no part of the what we thought would be the Plot of the Story.

And even then. Even then. Even if fatal illness had to be part of the Story…how about giving us a few years, fer cryin out loud?  How about giving the illness to me—who is older, who has lived five lifetimes already, whose child is already grown and out the door??  I could go now; I’d be okay with that.  But not Sabine. Not this lovely, kind, generous woman with so much to give the world, not Sabine with her terrific but vulnerable 13 year-old daughter who simply idolizes her mother.  No no no—me, not her. ME NOT HER.  What are you doing, God?? Why is this happening to her, God?

***

In one of the Narnia stories, quoted above, Lucy, the youngest of the Pevensie children, who in many ways has the tenderest relationship with Aslan, the mighty Lion-King of Narnia, is bewailing the fate of some other character for whom all has not gone well.  She argues with Aslan—something one really does not do, if one understands Who Aslan is.  But she argues anyway, trying to understand the what-ifs, the whys… and Aslan gently but firmly closes the discussion by saying, “I am telling you your own story, child; no one is told any story but their own.”

I think of that often, when I get baseball-bat angry and demand of God some answers… it is then that I hear, “No one is told any story but his own.”  And, with Lucy, I almost say, “okay, Aslan; whatever you say.”

I start to say it; I really do. But then I pick up the baseball bat again. I become Jacob, wrestling with God, Jacob, whose name in Hebrew means “he who struggles with God.”  And I wrestle all night until I lie spent in the dawn, and again I hear, “No one is told any story but his own.” I start to call bullshit and then I go silent, and I remember…

When all is said and done, I am a Christian because the Gospel, the Good News, tells me that I do not suffer alone, and that those I love do not suffer alone. “Jesus wept” is the shortest verse in the Bible; I suppose “God is Love” is the next shortest.  “Jesus wept” and “God is love” together summarize the entire incarnational theology of the Christian God. And so we follow a crucified Lord, we worship a suffering God.  Our Savior cried out in the Garden, and then—in His own baseball-bat moment—cried out again on the Cross, “My God, My God, why hast thou forsaken me?”  So far as we know He got no answer.  Neither, apparently, do I.

Children starve, and are eaten by earthquakes, or choke to death on nerve gas.  A beautiful woman dies in the prime of her life by a cruel and heartless disease that chews up the body and gnaws on the soul.  And Aslan died on a Stone Tablet.  The Story says that He is with us, his children, when we die on ours. And that He will be with those we love when they die on theirs.

But no one is told any Story but his own.

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About Kelly Clark

I am a convinced, if not very virtuous, Christian, recovering from alcohol abuse and many other addictions, and have been working a program of recovery consistently for over nineteen years-- since I blew my life up with chaos and crimes and hurt many people I loved. I am active in 12 Step Fellowships, sponsoring several men and attending several meetings each week. I expect to finish a Masters of Divinity in the Fall of 2011, and soon will begin a discernment process in my church about possible ordained ministry. In my day job, I am a trial attorney, representing adult victims of childhood sexual abuse.
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10 Responses to Arguing with the Author: The Futility and Necessity of Wrestling with God

  1. Tamarah Jane Pringle says:

    Our story ultimately intercepts everyone else’s story–even if we feel isolated in our particular sorrow. I, too, have my baseball bat moments. When my nephew was killed on his motorcycle life turned into a nightmare. It is hard to see a reason for the loss of such a young person, one month away from his wedding day. I have come to think that it has positioned me in others’ lives with a keener sensitivity and understanding. I have tried to come through for friends who are grieving truly difficult losses. God’s hand IS in everything; not to deliver comfort or ease, necessarily. But to guide us to the greatest good. My friend, Chris said at my nephew’s funeral: “We must thank Shawn for bringing out all this Love.” I looked around and saw the truth of this: There was love. All around.

  2. Mariane Schaum says:

    Yes, dear Kelly. Arguing with God is futile. And necessary for our survival after terrible things we DID NOT CAUSE happen to us. Wrestling with God makes us strong in ways we never thought we could be. This probably makes no sense to you now, but as someone who is much older than you and has wrestled with God so many times she is broken and crippled, I can say it doesn’t matter that you are wrestling with God over something that you did NOT make happen and is NOT your fault AND THAT YOU AND SABINE AND OLIVIA DO NOT DESERVE. In the wrestling you find your opponent to be your friend and your companion in the pain. Stay with your friends as you and Sabine and Olivia go through this ordeal .And if you need to, get that bat and go outside and hit the shit out of that tree and curse the moon and stars, and then go back inside and kiss Sabine while you can in this life. There is another one to come.

    • kelly clark says:

      Thanks for this wise note, Mariane. Futile and necessary.
      I read a midrash onetime where a Jewish scholar was commenting upon the story of Abraham and Isaac, and the near-sacrifice of Isaac. This writer, I cannot remember who it was, argued that later generations of readers had misread the story–that Abraham did not pass the test through faith; rather, he failed the test. What was wanted was that he argue with God, refuse to do kill his son, even if God was demanding it, to wrestle with God. I don’t know if that’s right as an interpretation, but it doesn’t matter; it is a terrific thought…

  3. Gail and Roger says:

    Raggs sermon spoke to you today. We will send you a copy very soon. It’s all about hope in the face of adversity.

  4. Tamarah Jane Pringle says:

    Gail and Roger– Could you possibly post a link to the sermon????

  5. Tracey says:

    Chills, Kelly.

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