Sunday, November 13, 2011

Wrestling With God

We just finished a series at Imago about the life of Jacob.  The story of Jacob wrestling with God (Genesis 32:22-32) has become one of my favorite stories in the Bible.  Here you have Jacob, a deceitful man who has lived a less than exemplary life, go through a life-changing experience in one intense night with God, his creator.  Jacob is fearful of soon meeting his brother Esau who understandably hates him and wants to kill him.  One night when Jacob is alone, God wrestles with him until daybreak, breaking his hip and renaming him "Israel".  In his own weakness and incapability to control the mess he has made, Jacob encounters God in a violent way, but comes out a completely different man.  Wounded yet healed.

I've been thinking a lot about "wrestling with God" and what that looks like in my life. As a Christian, I proclaim that I have a personal relationship with God. But I've come to question if I really know God. Personally. I think I know the God of this religion I'm following. I know that he loves me and is always there. I know that he is good. I know I like talking to him.  And I can almost always feel his presence. But do I really know God? And what does a personal relationship look like? One of the most important things in a deep intimate relationship with someone is the ability and willingness to challenge each other. To be open and honest. To state the difficult truths. To hear the difficult truths. To figure things out together, even if that means getting a little dirty. I'm pretty good at being open and honest with God. I can tell him exactly what I think. I tell him when I don't like something, when I'm frustrated with him, when I want things changed. But then I often walk away and don't listen to his response.

Wrestling takes two people. Each person is trying to gain a superior position over the other.  But we know that God is omnipotent and if we enter into wrestling with him, we're definitely not going to win.  So just entering the wrestling match is a big first step. Wrestling takes energy. And it could be embarrassing when I end up in a headlock. It requires us to lay down our control (which we don't really have anyway) and actually want to figure things out with God and let him change us in the process.

But wrestling isn't fighting.  We're not throwing punches in a violent way, hoping to knock our opponent out.  And when we wrestle with God, he's not judging us and he's not pushing us away.  He's actually coming closer to us.  He's touching us and transforming us.  We might get hurt in the process.  There might be some scars, or a broken hip in Jacob's case.  But a couple broken bones is sometimes what it takes to be changed.  And a limp reminds us that God cared enough to change us.

Wrestling with God, especially at night when it's dark and we can't really see what's going on, can be scary and confusing.  I've come to find that usually when I'm in opposition to God, it's because I can't see the whole picture.  I don't really know what's best for me.  Or I can't see how what I do in my life might be affecting others.  But God can see the whole picture and he does know what's best.  And in seeing all of this, he chooses to come down and wrestle with me and help me understand.  I'm grateful for a God who is willing to wrestle with me.

Jacob's story challenges me to encounter God in a way that doesn't really seem pleasant and easy. We can't be afraid to step into the ring and wrestle with God. How else will we be changed?

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