I think it is pretty much universally agreed that, economically speaking, times are tough. For some it is worse than others, but everyone is feeling the pinch as our money loses value, the price of products go up, and people continue losing jobs at alarming rates. In America alone, as of February, the unemployment rate was at 8.1%.
It is times like these when people really do start clinging to their guns and their religion. And, it is times like these, when religion can begin to cause people the most trouble. Old cliches, even though true, begin to ring hollow. When you’ve lost your job, been denied unemployment, and are unable to find employment anywhere else, being told that God will provide just isn’t as encouraging as it at one time may have been.
As one feeling his way through the mess of a bad economy firsthand, I can attest to the emptiness of the “God will provide” mantra. But should I, or anyone for that matter, feel that way? Is it blasphemous to feel like God isn’t providing for you? To feel like God doesn’t care? To actually feel like God just might have turned His back on you for no apparent reason?
Unlike many who would just say, “Have faith and pray and He will give you what you need,” I think it is perfectly acceptable to, at times, doubt God. I believe, even, that in the hardest of times, we have a Biblical precedent to do so.
One of the first times we see someone questioning God, or calling Him to task on something He is doing, is in the book of Genesis. God has decided to destroy the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah because of their sinfulness. These cities were full of themselves. They were “overfed.” They became so inward focused that they didn’t care what their lifestyle did to the world around them or even what was going on in the world around them. They refused to help those in need within and without their walls. And in their arrogance, they blatantly sinned before God. God is mad about this, so He says, through His messengers, as if under His breath but just loud enough so that Abraham can hear,
The outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is so great and their sin so grievous that I will go down and see if what they have done is as bad as the outcry that has reached me. If not, I will know. (Genesis 18:20b-21 TNIV)
In response, Abraham walks up to God Himself and questions Him. This isn’t even a reverent question. He seems to be outright questioning God’s wisdom on the matter. He looks at God, confronts Him, and asks,
Are you serious? Are you planning on getting rid of the good people right along with the bad? (Genesis 18:23 The Message)
A similar event happens later in the Bible, in probably one of the most famous stories in the whole book. God is up in heaven, and Satan, who’s been traversing the earth looking for those in need of testing, approaches His throne. He has found this guy named Job. A righteous man who has done no wrong. He, in essence, bets God that he can make Job curse Him. God takes the bet, and horrible things begin to happen in Job’s life. He loses everything. And in the midst of all of this trouble, he cries out to God, undoubtedly in anger, and says,
How long will Your [plaguing] glance not look away from me, nor You let me alone till I swallow my spittle? If I have sinned, what [harm] have I done You, O You Watcher and Keeper of men? Why have You set me as a mark for You, so that I am a burden to myself [and You]? (Job 7:19-20 Amplified Bible)
Even the man who God described as a man after his own heart spoke in a similar manner.
My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from the words of my groaning? My God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer, by night, but I find no rest. Yet you are enthroned as the Holy One; you are the praise of Israel. (Psalm 22:1-3 TNIV)
In the last two examples, you can almost hear the vindictiveness coming out. Phrases like “O You Watcher and Keeper of men” and “Yet you are enthroned as the Holy One; you are the praise of Israel.” This doesn’t read like praise. It reads like bitterness.
Jesus even borrows some of this phrasing while on the cross.
I do not believe that, when times are tough, God expects us to just sit back quietly and wait on Him. He wants us to come to Him and vent our frustrations and tell Him how we are really feeling. It is perfectly acceptable to sort of demand that God prove Himself or even question His decisions.
And when you look back at these stories, you see that immediately following the confrontations God proves Himself. In Abraham’s case, God proves that Sodom and Gomorrah were worth destroying. With Job, God goes to great lengths to prove Himself. With David, God delivered him from his troubles.
And He longs to do the same with us. But we must first confront Him, even wrestle with Him, before He will.