Sunday January 2, 2011 | Greg Boyd
So Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him till daybreak. When the man saw that he could not overpower him, he touched the socket of Jacob’s hip so that his hip was wrenched as he wrestled with the man. 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.
Then the man said, “Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with men and have overcome.”
Jacob said, “Please tell me your name.”
But he replied, “Why do you ask my name?” Then he blessed him there.
So Jacob called the place Peniel, saying, “It is because I saw God face to face, and yet my life was spared.”
God wants His people to wrestle with Him on the things that happen in their life. He wants His people to ask “Who are you, God?” Following the story of Jacob, we are called as Christ followers to struggle, strive, and seek to know who God is. We must also not be afraid of struggling with deep questions.
During Christmas time, many people can be seen struggling. Whether wrestling with God about faith issues or with a job change, Christmas brings out these struggles as people celebrate with family and friends. However, some people shy away from this wrestling with God because they believe it shows a lack of faith. This reminds us of the story of Jacob and how he wrestled with God.
In Genesis 32, we see the story of Jacob wrestling with God. This is an odd and beautiful story. It is clear from the passage that Jacob was wrestling God, yet, the text says that God couldn’t overpower Jacob. Jacob demands a blessing, and he is renamed by God to Israel which means one who strives with God or God strives. This leads us to the distinctive feature of God’s people—they wrestle with God and God wrestles with them. Some of this wrestling is due to a negative connotation of sin, but some of this wrestling has a positive connotation.
Some theology wants to not wrestle with God. If something is theologically tough to figure out, some might say it is easier to call it a mystery. A topic that seems to contradict itself will easily find itself in the mystery pile. Yet, the authors of the Bible don’t throw everything in the mystery pile. We see in the stories of Abraham, Moses, Jacob, Job, and others that people shouldn’t be afraid to speak up when it seems that God is acting out of character. Not only is it ok when we wrestle with God, but we’re supposed to wrestle with God.
One of the main pitches of some Christians today is that they have all the answers. They say that if one will only follow Jesus, then they will be free from struggles, worry, and pain. They think that wrestling with God, having questions or doubt, is a lack of faith. However, wrestling with God is a sign of faith.
Faith is a covenantal term that means trust and a pledge of trustworthiness. God is in relationship with His people. This relationship doesn’t avoid all conflict, but instead has the integrity and trust to confront conflict. When we study the Bible, we see that God doesn’t have this relationship with other nations. We don’t read about them struggling with God and confronting God’s character. Instead, they either don’t care about God or they simply accept whatever is said about God. God loves when His people wrestle with Him and goes so far as to commend it when He sees it.
In the book of Job, Job goes through some really rough stuff. He loses his land, his health, and his family. The book centers around the discussion that Job has with his friends as they attempt to give him answers to his pain and suffering. Job disagrees with their answers, and he wrestles with God as to why he is suffering. At the end of the book, God commends Job for this wrestling and struggle. God doesn’t agree with Job on some of his theology, and Job repents of this. Yet, God says that Job was the right one in all of the discussions, even if his friends had some of the answers right. Job spoke “straight” about the situation, and that is why God commended him.
This type of honest communication with God and honest theology about God is what He seeks from His followers. God doesn’t want fluff. He doesn’t want followers who don’t question what goes on around them. He wants honesty, and He wants us to express ourselves truthfully. We should embrace the conflict and keep the conversation open, with God and with others. This can bring a profound sense of peace in the midst of struggling, because we know that God struggles with us. This New Year, why not resolve to be honest with what you are thinking and feeling? Resolve to become a wrestler in the New Year and see what God shows you.