I recently took part in a panel discussion entitled “Conversations With My Inner Atheist.” The stated purpose of the discussion was to “normalize the faith struggle,” During the conversation, a few ideas shone through. One of them was the idea of “chutzpah.”
Chutzpah means having the guts to face God and say “I disagree.” We see it in the book of Job, a few of the Psalms and the Lamentations of Jeremiah. Which is to say, it’s not a frequent thing but it is certainly part of the mix. Chutzpah is part of a healthy practice of faith.
I am not suggesting a life of complaining at every scrape and bruise. But one in which, when it sincerely hurts or when it really does stop making sense, we carry our complaint to God like an offering; we sit in protest before Him just as we would in reverence. We plead, we cry, we shout and pace. We return over and over until either the mountain has moved or our hearts have changed.
A good friend, currently in a brutal season, said about his prayer life, “It’s mostly about yelling right now. But that’s still prayer, right?” Yes…Yes it is.
Job railed against God, calling Him unfair and unjust. In the end, his conceptions of ‘fairness’ and ‘justice’ were crushed under the weight of a broader, deeper and more comprehensive knowledge of God. I believe part of the writer’s intent with Job is communicating that we do not come to such knowledge without putting our best argument on the table, especially when we believe we are “right” and God is “wrong.” That’s chutzpah.
Bad Analogies (cuz that’s all I’ve got)
Chutzpah is one path to wisdom, which famously begins with “the fear of God.” This is not a fear in which one cowers timidly, but one of deep awe; one that many of us only come to by fighting God… and losing. Think of it like the first time we get thrown around by waves at a beach; we learn a bit about the power of the ocean and forever look on it with greater and deeper respect. Or the first time we challenge a professor in class and find out that she is not only far more knowledgable, far better read and more passionate about the subject but also that she is deeply interested in guiding us to wisdom, not just putting us in our place. Chutzpah leads to a knowledge that moves beyond concept to relationship; a knowledge that cannot be gained in study, but only in engagement. In some cases that engagement can last for years. But disagreement is still a way to engage; a facet of relationship. And just as we come to know one another in part by disagreeing, we come to know God.
Wisdom from the West Wing
During the first season of the West Wing, Leo McGarry challenges the White House Staff that “If we’re gonna walk into walls, I want us running into ‘em full speed.” If they were going to find their limits, they should do so in such a way that they would plainly know. Again, the path to wisdom begins, in part, by knowing where we end. I’m convinced that many of us carry deep resentment towards God because we’ve not honestly aired that grievance or pain. We settle for an untested, unsettled and distant ‘belief’ in a God whose goodness is something we’ve quietly or begrudgingly agreed to, like a math equation, but not something we’ve come to know. Our perception or interpretation of the events that cause us grief might be wrong (or even right) but we never truly know because we do not carry our complaint to God and speak… we lack courage… we lack chutzpah.