I got into the car recently in a bit of a surly mood. A few things hadn’t gone as I had anticipated the previous day, I had received an unwelcome email that morning, and I was behind on a number of important tasks. I stabbed the key into the ignition only to be greeted by the ear-splitting strains of the local top 40 station that my wife and daughter were, evidently, listening to on the way home from their evening activities last night. The part of the song that I was forcibly subjected to before frantically locating the combination of knobs that could lower the volume and/or change the station went something like, This is my fight song, take back my life song…
As an email-avoidance strategy, I decided to google the song when I got to the office. “Fight Song” is, apparently, the work of a young lady named Rachel Platten. After watching the first thirty seconds of the video, I surmised that this song could quite naturally slide into the bloated, yet apparently inexhaustible category of “generic poppy anthems to self-esteem and personal empowerment” category of my brain. I was very pleased that Ms. Platten had come to the conclusion that nothing could stand in the way of her dreams, but I decided that half a minute was about as much time as I was willing to devote to this discovery.
The rest of my morning contained a handful of conversations with people also engaged in fights of some kind or another. Fights with fatigue, with the crushing weight of failing health, with relationships that seem never to perform as they ought to. Fights with doubt and the enormity of injustice in the world, fights with the church and its maddening contradictions.
Fights with God.
Ah yes, fights with God. So many of our smaller fights are, in one way or another, a fight with God. Why won’t you act? How can you tolerate this? Why won’t you help? Why aren’t you more useful in the many ways that we need you to be useful?!
I’ve read and listened to a lot of deconversion narratives over the years. Lots of stories about believers who eventually gave up the fight and made their way to the clear light of reason, shedding their cumbersome beliefs in a God who cares, a God who matters, a God who is useful in the ways that we need God to be useful. Almost without exception, I find myself resonating with parts of these narratives as I read them. Who among us doesn’t have moments where we think, “What if we’re just making all of this up?” And sometimes the idea of just leaving God behind is attractive. God isn’t always very convenient, after all. There a lot of explanatory gaps that God doesn’t seem terribly concerned to fill, a lot of prayers that seem to just echo into the void, a lot of cries for justice in a world that reminds decidedly unjust. Sometimes the fight doesn’t seem worth the effort.
The most famous fight with God in Scripture is found in Genesis 32. It’s a strange story where Jacob wrestles with a mysterious nocturnal visitor throughout the night and ends up with a permanent limp and a new name. Israel. “One who struggles with God.” At one point in the fight, the night visitor tells Jacob to release him, and Jacob famously responds, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.”
What a line, that one.
I will not let you go until you bless me.
After my morning conversations, I reflected a bit on my own journey. I’ve been a doubter for my whole life. I’ve always been prone to wander. Lord, how I’ve felt it. I’ve always felt that God had more than a little explaining to do given the cavernous gap between the promises delivered by some of his most enthusiastic spokespeople and the world that I observe around me. I’ve always felt the pull of easier stories about the world and my place within it.
And yet, I have never been able to shake this God. I have never been able to walk away, never been able to say, “enough is enough.” I can scarcely recall a day of my life where at least some part of my waking experience was not somehow refracted through the lenses of goodness and blessing and salvation and sin and evil and suffering and creation and hope and longing and fear and deliverance…Which is all, perhaps, a way of saying, I have never been able to look at anything in my life without God hovering over my shoulder, clouding my vision, disrupting and disorienting me, and generally making a nuisance of himself.
God will not leave me alone. And so I, in turn, have decided that I will return the favor and refuse to leave him alone either. I have clung to this God and said, something to the effect of, I am not letting go… Not until you bless me! The idea of giving up on God seems utterly impossible to me. Incomprehensible, even. I cannot imagine my life without this fight. To whom else could/would I go?