Wrestling with God. Hmm, an interesting concept, that the Creator of everything should even deign to look at ‘insignificant’ humans, never mind stoop to the level of wrestling with them. And what would be the point? Isn’t He God, the unbending, unchanging Ruler of the Universe? What possible chance would a mere mortal have of ‘winning’ against God?
Well, Genesis 32:24-30 tells the story of Jacob, the man who wrestled with God. He refused to let go of God until He received a blessing:
“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 humans 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.”
But you know what, it’s not only ok, but it’s positively encouraged to wrestle with God over life’s great issues, and faith’s big questions. The Bible is full of it. ‘Why, God, why?’ is the theme of many of the Psalms, where men express such raw emotion – not only love, adoration and praise, but also hatred, sorrow, viciousness, pain, suffering and revenge. It’s honest, and God likes it when we are honest with Him about our feelings. One of the hidden messages of the Psalms is that it is ok to feel like that, it’s ok to approach God with your pain as well as with your joy. Wrestle with God about life’s big issues – He can handle it. Don’t be afraid that you might be blaspheming or something. That kind of assertion comes from those who themselves do not wrestle with God; those who do not understand how approachable He is. Don’t be afraid of being angry with God about things you see happening – suffering, injustice, or anything else for that matter. This is wrestling with God, and He does indeed stoop down to allow this to do this; indeed, he expects us to do so!
And so you see there is indeed a point to wrestling with God. You might just get some answers to your questions. Or you might not. You will almost certainly gain better understanding. You definitely get the chance to let off some steam! And you may well change things. God listens. He might even change His mind. Also, God acts on your behalf! And in fact I’d say that always, when you wrestle with God, you will change in some way – an opinion, an attitude, a belief – indeed, Jacob had a limp for the rest of his life…. you see, when you get to see things more from God’s point of view, you can’t help but change.
Wrestling with God can involve simply praying (through gritted teeth if necessary!); it can involve study of the Bible and/or other literature; listening to music; watching a sunset; working with the poor; debate and discussion with other people (believers and unbelievers alike)….this is all healthy stuff! And it’s right and honest to question; in that way, your faith stands on firm foundations.
My recent post about Hell (actually it was more about not teaching the concept to kids, but there we are) stirred up much strong and indeed heated debate between myself and five of my friends; most of the discussion was conducted on Facebook. You see, we are all six of us strong Men of God with strongly held opinions, who know what we believe and why we believe it.
Sometimes, though, as we have seen, we do indeed need to wrestle with God on hard topics such as Hell, and when that happens, our strongly held opinions come to the fore.
Because of this, we then engaged in strong, vigorous debate about the actual nature of things. And, interestingly, this is precisely the Rabbinic method of debate – discussion about strongly held beliefs, not all of which are compatible, to arrive at a deeper truth. This is the method Jesus and St.Paul used in a) their education and b) their ministries. Folks, we are in good company!
When engaged in such debate, I would put out four points worth bearing in mind.
Firstly, we should each pray for each other that the Spirit of Truth guide us in our studies, so that we arrive at the conclusions He wants us to get to.
Secondly, remember that this is the path of integrity, in that we do not bury our honest doubts, but instead wrestle with God and with each other over them (remember that part of the verses above, ‘You have wrestled with God and with humans‘).
Thirdly, we need to remember, of course, that we are talking in some ways about things that we cannot understand as mere mortals – see here for more ideas on this!
Finally, and interestingly, in order to wrestle with God you have to get close to Him. There are few activities that bring two people into closer proximity than does wrestling! It’s one of the closest contact sports there are.
When we wrestle with God, then, we draw closer to Him. And also to each other. And we arrive at a greater understanding of the truth.
Please feel free to wrestle!