Wrestling with God

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The more time you spend with God, the more likely you are at some point to wrestle with God.

Spoiler alert: You will lose that wrestling match. 

But there’s a good chance you will end up with a souvenir from the encounter that will be well worth keeping.

The prototypical divine-human wrestling match is reported in Genesis 32:22-32, which has long been regarded as one of the Bible’s most mysterious passages.  Jacob, the grandson of Abraham, is preparing for an anxiety-filled reunion with his twin brother Esau.  This would be the same Esau from whom he had stolen, years earlier, both the family’s birthright and their father’s blessing. 

As if that isn’t a sufficient formula for losing sleep, Jacob wrestles all night long with someone described as “a man.”  The text implies that this is an angel of the Lord who represents God himself. 

Light begins to appear on the eastern horizon.  “Then the man said, ‘Let me go, for it is daybreak.’  But Jacob replied, ‘I will not let you go unless you bless me.’  The man asked him, ‘What is your name?’  ‘Jacob,’ he answered.”

Now this may seem like a strange thing to ask somebody after hours of struggle.  Is the angel afflicted with amnesia? 

Actually, the person who has been confused about his own identity is Jacob.  Let’s see:  How did he answer the last time he was asked the same question?  “Father, it is I, Esau.”  Jacob had lied about his identity in order to steal a blessing.  God will have none of that this time.  The only way to make progress when wrestling with God is to say, with absolute honesty, “This is who I am.”

For most of his adult life, Jacob has refused to face trouble.  When things get tough, he runs for his life.

But this time is different.  This time he hangs on to God for dear life.  “I will not let you go, unless you bless me.” 

Are you in a wrestling match with God?  Are you struggling with doubt?  With anger or disappointment because God has taken away something or someone precious from your life?  Are you wrestling with confusion because you’ve asked God for guidance but only seem to hear silence?

Don’t let go

Way too many people break their clinch with God after just a little struggle and say, “Well, I guess that’s that.”  It’s true that wrestling with the deep questions concerning God’s presence and God’s will is hard work.  But such hand-to-hand, heart-to-heart grappling appears to be one of God’s chief tactics for shaping our lives. 

That was certainly true for Jacob.  He emerges with a new identity.  Jacob (“Grabber”) will now be known as Israel (“He wrestles with God”).  And the people of Israel, who to this day carry his new name, have for more than three millennia modeled for the world what it means to go to the mat with the Creator of the cosmos. 

Jacob leaves with something else.  “As the sun rose above him…he was limping….” (Genesis 32:31) 

We shouldn’t be surprised that wrestling with God can leave a mark. 

For years I have looked back on a particularly difficult time in my life and winced.  The spiritual growth that sprang from those days was wonderful, and probably couldn’t have happened in my life by any other means.  Still, the memories are painful.  I’ve lived in the expectation that one day everything would resolve – there would be only positive recollections, with everything tied up in a bow. 

Then one day it occurred to me that maybe that’s never been God’s plan. 

When it comes to memories, I still limp from time to time.  But every twinge of memory is accompanied by God’s reminder:  “Don’t forget that I was with you during that long, dark night.  Remember that the morning finally came.  And I blessed you.” 

Are you wrestling with God?

Don’t let go.

Life’s hardest moments may leave us with a limp, but we will never walk straighter and taller.