Wrestle with God (Wednesday)
Today's devotional comes from "Falling Into Goodness," a book of Lenten reflections by Chuck DeGroat. You can purchase the entire book on Amazon in paperback or for Kindle.
Fifth Wednesday in Lent
Jacob was left alone; and a man wrestled with him until daybreak. When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he struck him on the hip socket; and Jacob’s hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him. Then he said, “Let me go, for the day is breaking.” But Jacob said, “I will not let you go, unless you bless me.” So he said to him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Jacob.” Then the man said, “You shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with humans, and have prevailed.” Gen. 22:24-28
“It feels like my struggle is just a revelation of how little faith I have,” she said, battling to look me in the eyes. Her shame was palpable. She’d heard it time and again – real Christians with real faith see real victory in their lives.
She pinned her Facebook wall with optimistic quotes and positive thoughts, but these were only a mask. Somehow, she hoped that by portraying positivity, she’d become positive herself.
How strange is it, then, that so many women and men in Scripture seem to wrestle? In this passage, Jacob himself seems to be wrestling with this “God-man” – one who seems to be close enough to be intimately engaged and yet powerful enough to re-name him.
He was once called Jacob. Jacob, which could mean “followed” or “supplanted,” becomes Israel, “one who struggles with God.” The one who was clasping at Esau’s heel is now the one who stands toe to toe with God, who enters the boxing ring with God, who is wounded by God.
From now on, an entire nation is defined by his wrestling match with God. The people of “Israel” have a vocation embedded in their name.
I once heard a theologian say that one of Israel’s major problems in the Old Testament was that it actually failed to wrestle well with God. Instead of wrestling, she went back to old habits and loves, old idols and addictions. Instead of wrestling, she’d look for security in military power and human leaders. But where she failed in her vocation as God-wrestler, Jesus didn’t. Jesus accomplishes what Israel failed at.
And because we are “in Christ” – because Christ is more near to us than we are to ourselves – we, too, become God-wrestlers. We, too, are marked not by a merit badge but by a limp. Christians make Jesus known not in strength but in weakness. Christians are transformed not by climbing the ladder but by wrestling in the ring, where we’re always close to the ground.
You see, once again our limits are on display, and it’s quite alright with God. The limp isn’t a disqualifier. The struggle isn’t a strikeout. Falling to the mat isn’t our end. In fact, our very wrestling is a declaration of trust. By grabbing hold of God by the arms and wrestling, we’re declaring our desires, our longings, our hopes. We’re declaring that God is real – not some ghost-like figure but One who enters in.
Those who follow Jesus are the “new Israel,” with a new identity, a new vocation, a new mission. Our wrestling is not just for ourselves, but for the sake of all. I wonder what it would be like for a watching world to see us wrestling honestly with God, unafraid of our limp, engaged relentlessly with a God who is more near and available than we can imagine!
Wrestling God, I’ve got to admit – it’s hard to imagine getting in the boxing ring with you. The story of Jacob seems like an old fable, not a relevant invitation. But I want to live out my vocation and mission as the God-struggler, for my sake and for the sake of the world. Amen