When was the last time you fought with God? When's the last time you really had it out? I don't know about you, but fighting with God doesn't sit well with me. First of all, I don't like fights I can't win. Given God's obvious omnipotence, it seems like it's my job to just take what he gives and deal with the rest. And isn't that what most of us do? We take something hard and we try to find a way to live with it. We may blame others for our struggles or we may blame ourselves. We look for ways to correct it on our own and we cut God out of it because it's a fight we know we can't win.
But what if the reason for fighting with God isn't about winning or getting our way, but about something that our hearts need even more? What if we choose to fight with God because we love him? What if we do the hard work of resolving conflict because that's what people in relationship do?
Fighting with purpose
There is no one who can get me more angry than my husband. Why do I get so mad? Because it is important to me that I feel known and understood by him. Whenever we are out of step in a way that makes me feel undervalued or disregarded, I want to fight. But the fight isn't for the purpose of being right (Okay, sometimes it's about being right . . . ). A good fight is for the purpose of being heard. A good fight is because I want to be back in sync. I want to live in oneness with my husband, where I know he hears me, he understands me, and he loves me. And if I'm really honest, those things are more important than whatever "thing" it is that I want him to fix.
Apply that same logic to your relationship with God. Sometimes we're angry at God because we aren't getting our way. We feel he hasn't held up his part of the deal. We want to get away from him. Perhaps we believed that life would look trouble-free because of him. So we distance ourselves because we feel like he's let us down.
If that's you right now, then that's an honest place to be. Getting as specific as you can about what you think God was supposed to be or do for you is the very first step. If you feel like God has let you down, try to write it out. What specifically do you think he's supposed to make happen? And what is the hoped-for outcome of that action? Usually, our thoughts end in something like "and that will make me happy," or "and that's what I want." Getting honest and specific like this will help you identify the condition by which you feel loved.
Imagine now that I said to my husband, "If you loved me, you would bring home $10,000 in cash." Perhaps my husband would be particularly patient and inquire, "Why would cash make you feel loved? This is the honest place we can also come with God. When we name the specific thing we want or think we need, we are getting closer to the real issue.
The heart of the matter
When I spend time working with a couple on their relationship, I will often ask them to clarify the heart of the fight. In counseling, we call this the presenting symptom. What this implies is that the first symptom we present is usually not the true issue. A couple may be fighting about who cleans up after dinner, when in reality what they are actually fighting about is value and respect. So before we take on a fight with God, it can help to clarify the issue at hand and the desired outcome of the conflict. Ask yourself this: What do I want? Answers? To be right? To get what I think I need? If we're motivated by these factors, we'll likely end up feeling frustrated and like God is distant.
But God's silence allows us time to uncover the true needs of our heart. In Scripture, Jesus asks questions to clarify the issue at hand and to express a desire for intimacy in relationship. For example, Jesus asked his disciple Peter, "What do you want? (John 1:38). Later he asked him, "Who do you say that I am?" (Matthew 16:15) and "Do you love me?" (John 21:16). Like his patient interactions with Peter, Jesus allows us the freedom and invitation to engage with him on a personal and honest level.
Often we tend to use anger to cover up hurt. Perhaps if you are really honest with yourself, you can look at what's behind the anger. You may talk to God about the places you feel overlooked, the ways you feel disregarded, or the cravings you have for love and affection. These kinds of hurt places are a vulnerable step toward reconciliation, rather than a strong step toward our own "rights." First Peter 5:7 says, "Give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about you." If you can stick with the fight long enough, you'll find the true cares of your heart—and God is faithful to meet us in those vulnerable places.
The Bible is full of people relating to God in this very way. Frustrated, Moses cried out about the work God had given him in leading the Israelites: What should I do with these people?" (Exodus 17:4). There are multiple places in Psalms where David and other psalmists cried out "How long, O Lord?" in anguish and despair. Paul and Timothy wrote to their friends in Corinth about their own times of hardship, how they "despaired even of life" (2 Corinthians 1:8, kjv). These are deep, troubling places where humans feel at odds with God. Yet in the honesty of these words, we can take comfort knowing that God invites us into that kind of relationship with him. He invites us to search, wrestle, and yes, even fight with him about the things we can't understand or about the ways we feel far from him.
Winning a fight with God
So we discover, in our anger and hurt, that what we need most from God is his presence. We need the assurance that we are his beloved. We need the security that we can rest close to him, knowing that he is at work to accomplish his purposes in us. We need to know that he sees our troubles and does not disregard our cares. We win the fight with God when we admit our weakness and our troublesome lack of faith, and allow him to refresh us when we are weary and depressed.
We must journey through truth—hard truth about what we think life is about, what we think God should do for us, and the ways we feel let down or betrayed. We tip-toe into the vulnerable places and we find Christ is waiting for us there, gently drawing us to him in order to clarify his power in our lives—Who do you say that I am?—and our affection for him—Do you love me? The outcome is honesty, vulnerability, and refreshment in the truth of who God is and who we are in him. And that's a fight worth having.
Nicole Unice is a ministry associate at Hope Church and co-author of Start Here: Beginning a Relationship with Jesus (David C. Cook, April 2014). She fights with God often, and he keeps winning. Find her speaking calendar at NicoleUnice.com.