Battling against God for God

In Prayerbook of the Bible (1940), Lutheran theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer writes:

The Psalter has rich instruction for us about how to come before God in a proper way in the various sufferings that the world brings upon us. The Psalms know it all: serious illness, deep isolation from God and humanity, threats, persecutions, imprisonment, and whatever conceivable peril there is on earth (13, 21, 35, 41, 44, 54, 55, 56, 61, 74, 79, 86, 88, 102, 105, and others). They do not deny it, they do not deceive themselves with pious words about it, they allow it to stand as a severe ordeal of faith, indeed at times they no longer see beyond the suffering (Ps. 88), but they complain about it all to God. No single human being can pray the psalms of lamentation out of his or her own experience. Spread out before us here is the anguish of the entire Christian community throughout all time, as Jesus Christ alone has wholly experienced it. Because it happens with God’s will, indeed because God alone knows it completely and better than we ourselves, therefore only God can help. But then, all our questions must also again and again storm directly against God. 

There is in the Psalms no quick and easy surrender to suffering. It always comes through struggle, anxiety, and doubt. Our confidence in God’s righteousness and, indeed, in God’s good and gracious will, is shaken, for it allows the pious to suffer misfortune but the godless to escape free (Pss. 44, 35). God’s ways are too difficult to grasp. But even in the deepest hopelessness, God alone remains the one addressed. Help is neither expected from other people, nor does the sufferer in self-pity lose sight of God, the origin and goal of all affliction. The one who suffers sets out to battle against God for God. God’s promise, God’s previous redemptive deeds, the honor of God’s name among all people, are again and again held up before the wrathful God. 

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