Do we wrestle or yield? Do we “go hard” or soften ourselves into grace? Do we push ourselves or do we yield into presence?
Yes. Yes to all of that. We strive and we follow, we yearn and we relinquish, we move and we sit perfectly still.
In the sermon series “Storytime” (click here for the most recent sermon), I’ve been fascinated by the well-roundedness of the characters in the Bible. In week one, Jesus was motivated by compassion, but he also spoke hard-truths to the leaders of that time. This week I was struck by Jacob’s wrastling with God. (I hope you say that with a deep southern drawl: “wrAstling.”)
Genesis 32:22-32 tells the story of Jacob wrestling with “a man” who he later learns is God. I was challenged by this story as it seems to suggest opposing truths: 1) we should pay closer attention to who is right in front of us, and 2) we can wrestle with God and receive a blessing.
1) I was struck that God came down to where Jacob was and he didn’t recognize it was God. There are textual clues in Genesis 32 that seem to suggest maybe God was concealing God’s self, but it got me to thinking: “When has God been in our midst and we haven’t recognized it?”
I love the theological term Imago Dei. This is the idea that all humans are made in the “image of God.” If that is the case, then God is in our midst any time we are with someone else. As simple and as wonderful as that. How might that change our world? How might we walk through life differently, treat people differently, see the world differently if we believed that each person we encountered was the very reflection of God?
We are human and we will reflect that image more and less well, but try that this week. Try seeing everyone through the truth that even if it’s hidden by our humanity, God’s image is present in each person we see. Intimacy with God can be as easy as loosening our grips and leaning into relationship with those around us.
2) I am more challenged by the second thing happening in Jacob’s story: he wrestled with God and God blessed him! God changed his name from “Jacob” to “Israel” which can mean “one who struggled with God and men and won.” He wrestled with God and when God said to let go, he said: “I won’t let you go until you bless me” (Gen. 32:29, CEB).
It got me thinking, “I wonder where in our lives we should hold on and boldly ask for a blessing?” I believe that “wrestling” in this passage can signify being authentic, bringing our whole selves to God. I have seen too many people (myself included!) who think that being a “good Christian” means that we have it all together, that we don’t hurt or need or long. That when bad things are happening, we just blindly trust. While I think there is some truth to that, I wonder if Jacob’s story teaches us that we are supposed to wrestle with God too, that we are supposed to bring all of our doubt and fear and want and need and hurt to God. That we bring all our mess — our humanity — and say “I won’t let go until you bless me.”
How might that change your life? How might a night spent wrestling with God where you honestly and authentically bring your human limitation and say, “bless this.” I think God takes our struggling, our true desiring and needing, and uses it. God uses our complicated, nuanced, messy lives to show love and grace.
I know this is a long post, but I want to offer one more thought…
The real kicker for me as I thought about Jacob’s story is that God came to him. While I believe we are supposed to be intimate with God through our caring and serving; we are supposed to wrestle with God, bringing our hurt and need; I believe we also can and should expect that God does the work.
God came down to Jacob, not the other way around.
We are going to get it wrong, wrestling when we should have just received, not engaging when we should have wrestled… but God in all God’s infinite grace and love for us keeps coming. If the question for this week is “What is keeping us from intimacy with God?” Maybe only God can fully answer that. That doesn’t mean we don’t wrestle and love, it doesn’t mean we don’t put ourselves in the way by coming to church, loving boldly, reading the Bible, praying…
but it also means we trust that God keeps coming for us in the midst of our mess, in the midst of our brokenness, in the midst of our stories.
We keep trying, even if (because are human and complicated and life is messy) even if we keep getting it wrong more than right. And then we pray.
Today, I pray this prayer by Ted Loder for us:
Lord, so many things skitter through my mind,
and I give chase to gather them
and hold them up in a bunch to you,
but they go this way and that
while I go that way and this…
So, gather me up instead
and bless what eludes my grasp but not yours:
trees and bees, fireflies and butterflies,
roses and barbecues, and people…
Lord, the people … bless the people …
Bless them, Lord.
Bless what eludes my grasp but not yours.¹
Grace & Peace, Cole
- Ted Loder, Guerrillas of Grace: Prayers for the battle, “Bless What Eludes My Grasp,” (Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Fortress, 1981), 39.