A Good God and Scary Stories: Why we read the tough stories in the Bible.

Jasmine, the director of our Bible 316 class, writes on the importance of reading through the tough stories we find in the Bible. In our Bible 316 class, we read through the Bible in a year with our students and meet weekly to answer questions and discuss the stories. We are embarking on our third month and have already tackled some messy stories. Here, she talks about why we choose to do that, and asks that parents would join us in our efforts of encouraging our youth to wrestle with hard questions and to trust in the God who is the Author and the Answer of these stories:

A widow sleeping with her Father-in-law in order to carry out her family line.

Entire towns being wiped out in order for their land to be populated by another people group.

A man set to serve as a priest who leaves, takes a concubine, gives her to be abused, and then cuts her up to be sent in the mail.

These are just some of the stories our students have had to wrestle with while reading though the Bible this year. Wouldn’t it be easier to just skip over them, and instead focus our energy on the great and wonderful story of redemption we find God weaving throughout the Bible, from Genesis to Revelation? Yep, it would. These stories make us uncomfortable, and it can be hard to understand the importance of reading them. And we believe God has invited us and our students to do just that: to wrestle with these stories, surrendering our comfort–and sometimes even our desire to have all the answers–to see that without him we are desperately broken, and to ultimately see that he is good and that He is God.

In Genesis 32 we find a story about a man named Jacob who gets in a wrestling match with God. This man Jacob doesn’t have the best track record: he was named “cheater” at his birth, he tricks his older brother into giving him his birthright (the privileges of the firstborn son, who would be the next in line to carry out the promise God gave to Abraham, a very big deal), Jacob tricks his father Isaac into actually giving him the birthright, he flees from home, he marries two women because he didn’t like the first one (granted, his Father-in-law did cheat him), and he didn’t accept the God of his father as his God.

And then God meets him. Jacob had a pattern of cheating his way into things and fleeing his way out of things, but God wouldn’t let him escape this time. On this night, as Jacob stood alone in the middle of a valley, God met him in the flesh and wrestled with him. And Jacob didn’t flee this time; he accepted God’s invitation to wrestle and fought until the break of day. As they wrestled, the man whom Jacob wrestled with put his hip out of joint, but Jacob still refused to let go. Jacob then said, “I will not let you go until you bless me.” And God answers his request. Before departing, he renames him Israel, for he had “striven with God and with men, and [had] prevailed” (verse 28). Jacob refuses to give up, and God blesses him by changing his walk and his identity. Jacob may have walked away with a limp, but he also walked away with a new name and with a new God: the God of Israel.

We want our youth to be Jacob’s. We want them to stand in the valley, to pause in the unknown, and accept God’s invitation to wrestle. It may put their worldview out of joint. It may cause them to walk away with a limp. It may change them, and we pray that it does. When we stop and choose to engage in a wrestling match with God, he will meet us. God wants us to know him and to claim him as our own God, the God whom we have met and wrestled with and been blessed by. But this won’t happen unless we pause in the valley and ask God to meet us.

We believe that wrestling through these tough stories in the Bible will give our youth the opportunity to be blessed: to be blessed by the God who gladly meets them there, to be blessed by the God who works good out of all the messy stories, to be blessed by the way he changes them.

These stories are indeed a part of the great and wonderful story of redemption God is weaving for us through his Word. They make up the tapestry of his mercy and grace, and in them we are able to see a little brighter and understand a little clearer. Through these stories, we are able to see the desperation of man more clearly. We are able to see what happens when mankind is left to their own devices. We are able to see that God has good, and I mean really, really, good purposes through horrific events. We are able to see that God is indeed God, and that he is very good.

We are confident that God intended these stories to be in the Bible for a reason. He wants us to be changed, and he wants us to be changed to love him and need him more. And even if we don’t come out with all of the answers, we get to trust in a God who has come out triumphant, who has wrestled with sin and death and satan and all the mess that we see around us, and who has come out triumphant. This is the God we trust in.

We will continue to wrestle through tough questions and messy stories and we will continue to pray that our youth are changed by them and drawn closer to their triumphant King through them. We ask that you, parents, would join us in this. Read with them. Ask them hard questions. Encourage them to wrestle by wrestling yourself. And you will be able to say as a team, “We wrestled with God, and he has proven himself to be our God.”

If you are curious about how you might do this, here are some practical ways:

  1. If your student is reading through the Bible 316 reading plan with us, join them. Your influence will hold more weight than ours ever can. Our reading plans and resources are available on our website under “Bible 316” and then “Resources”.
  2. If your student is not in 316, and is able to join, encourage them to come. They can bring their questions and they will be welcomed. We want God to bless them in their wrestling.
  3. If your student is unable to join Bible 316, ask them about their devotionals. Do devotionals together. Bring your own questions forward, and ask them theirs. Wrestle together and ask God to bless you as a family.

We hope that you join us. God is good, and he loves a good wrestling match.

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