This morning I’d like to return to one of my favorite Bible stories, the one about a very dysfunctional family we introduced a few weeks ago. I’m sure you remember Isaac and Rebekah, and their children Jacob and Esau – a family that despite their flaws and limitations played a critical role in the creation of the people called Israel.
But this morning I’d like to focus not on Isaac, or their children, rather on Rebekah. Specifically, on that critical moment in her life when, after twenty years of marriage, she bitterly wonders whether she will ever have children. Twenty years into their marriage and with the biological clock ticking faster than ever, and they still have no children.
They must feel very upset, a monumental failure. Everybody around is watching – unless they have children, the promise once given to them will not be fulfilled. And that means that their tribe-nation will literally disappear from the face of the earth — shame on Isaac and Rebekah!
So, imagine their joy the day Rebekah finds out she is pregnant! Yet her joy is short lived, for her pregnancy is more difficult and challenging than she would have expected. She is pregnant with twins, which in those days represented a real challenge in itself. But her twins are literally fighting in her womb!
Many years later the powerful symbolism of this early struggle in her womb will be revealed to us – two sister nations meant to remain together, will instead be fighting all the time.
One of those ugly days when Rebekah feels really, really miserable, so sick and so depressed by a very traumatic pregnancy, she turns to God and asks God point blank – “What’s up, my Lord, why this difficulty, this pain? If it is to be this way, why do I live?”
One of my Old Testament professors during my seminary years offered a very provocative translation — “What’s wrong with you, Lord?” She is upset, to say the least, yet she does not hide her own suffering in silence. Rather, she opens up and confronts God and discuss it with him, for she knows that God is at least knee-deep in her pregnancy.
“Lord, what in the world is going on here,” she asks. “What’s wrong with you, God?” Rebekah refuses to be silent before God. Her trust in God is such, she knows that God will not resent at all her questions and her questioning. “Lord, I need answers on this one.” “Lord, you’ve got some explaining to do.”
Some of you may think that confronting God with your deepest questions shows disrespect, to say the least. That doing something like that is crossing the line. That Rebekah’s attitude is not politically correct. That we should always tell ourselves, “Such is God’s will” — and then shut up for good!
Yet the Bible is filled with men and women of faith who dared to confront God with their most profound, excruciating questions. Moses asked, “Why have you dealt ill with your servant?” (Numbers 11:11) Prophet Elijah cried out to the Lord, “Why have you brought tragedy to this widow who has opened her home to me, yet you let her son died?” (1 Kings 17:20) David asked, “Oh Lord, why do you stand far off? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?” (Psalm 10:1)
Prophet Habakkuk asked, “Why do you tolerate wrongdoing?” (Habakkuk 1:3) Job asked, “Why have you made me your target?” (Job 7:20) The disciples asked, “Why was this man born blind?” (John 9:2) Even Jesus confronted God with his most excruciating question when on the cross he asked, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46)
I’ll never forget Elsa, one of my favorite Sunday School teachers. It was Elsa who introduced us to the spiritual practice of having frequent tête-à-tête with the Lord. A very private, personal, intimate conversation — “head-to-head” or “face to face” chat. Elsa always chatted with the Lord and made notes! She had a notebook with her personal, intimate conversations with God. She highlighted her own questions in red. And God’s answers in green. Sometimes, like Rebekah, Elsa would get upset and angry with God – and her anger, her struggle, always found an outlet in her private conversations with the Lord.
A few months after their wedding, on his way back from work, Elsa’s husband was brutally attacked by robbers. He was left in a coma for several weeks, then he spent several months of physical and emotional rehabilitation to recover. So, she frequently had serious questions for God – sometimes, bitter questions.
It is “okay” to be upset, to be angry, when God does not seem to care about our lives — she told us — and it is okay to confront God and ask, “What’s wrong with you, Lord?”
Friends, no matter where we are in our faith journey, there will be times when painful experiences in our lives can cause us to question God. An illness or surgery can cause us to question God’s purpose and plan for our future. An unexpected job loss can lead us to questioning whether God will provide for our needs. Depression or anxiety can make us question God’s care and love for us. Marriage and family difficulties can cause us to question whether God sees and knows what is going on in our lives. And when this happens to us – or to a loved one — we too may feel like Rebekah, and even confront God the way she did – “If it is to be this way, why do I live?”
This tête-à-tête, this face-to-face chat with the Lord was part of the discerning and healing process for Elsa. And to this day, for me too. Elsa insisted that it is a very good idea to have a personal time, a sort of performance review with the Lord, rather than blame the Lord or run away from him when the going goes tough. She was so sure that the Lord’s understanding and compassion are so real and so genuine, he will never let us go away from those very personal, intimate moments with empty minds or empty hearts.
Wrestling with the Lord, confronting the Lord, asking the Lord – “Why does it have to be this way or that way?” Telling the Lord – “You know I am really not happy with how things are going right now”. . .All of that is okay, my friends. It is OK with me – it works with me!
It gives me an opportunity to identify my anger, my frustration, my broken dreams as well as my misplaced expectations and hopes. But more important, it also gives me a very honest and reassuring perspective on my own relationship with the Lord.
And when this tête-à-tête of sorts is over, I know that I and the Lord have been together, and will be together forever, for I am convinced that nothing can ever separate me from God’s love that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.