Genesis 32:22-32 (Common English Bible)
Jacob wrestles with God
22 Jacob got up during the night, took his two wives, his two women servants, and his eleven sons, and crossed the Jabbok River’s shallow water. 23 He took them and everything that belonged to him, and he helped them cross the river.24 But Jacob stayed apart by himself, and a man wrestled with him until dawn broke. 25 When the man saw that he couldn’t defeat Jacob, he grabbed Jacob’s thigh and tore a muscle in Jacob’s thigh as he wrestled with him. 26 The man said, “Let me go because the dawn is breaking.”
But Jacob said, “I won’t let you go until you bless me.”
27 He said to Jacob, “What’s your name?” and he said, “Jacob.” 28 Then he said, “Your name won’t be Jacob any longer, but Israel, because you struggled with God and with men and won.”
29 Jacob also asked and said, “Tell me your name.”
But he said, “Why do you ask for my name?” and he blessed Jacob there. 30 Jacob named the place Peniel, “because I’ve seen God face-to-face, and my life has been saved.” 31 The sun rose as Jacob passed Penuel, limping because of his thigh.32 Therefore, Israelites don’t eat the tendon attached to the thigh muscle to this day, because he grabbed Jacob’s thigh muscle at the tendon.
Thoughts on the passage:
I would hope that all of us at one point or another have wrestled with God. Maybe we have not done so literally, but I think mentally and spiritually we have all done it. Sometimes it starts with a “why God, why” sort of cry in our hearts. Other times it comes from a sense of deep longing and a need for God to be present. Whatever the reason, I think it is safe to say that Jacob is not the only who is marked by his struggles with God.
One of the funny things about faith is that doubts actually make it stronger. It might seem counter-intuitive, but what strengthens faith is not the denial of questions or doubts but the confronting those questions. When we don’t face the questions in our hearts or the doubts we hear expressed, our faith becomes weaker, shallower, and more fragile. It is through the testing of our faith, the facing of those questions and doubts that our faith grows and strengthens. Over and over you will hear talk about it is actually the hard times, the dark nights of the soul, that lead people to a deeper faith.
The history of our faith is one of struggles and doubts. Jacob wrestles with the angel, begging for a blessing. Job has the audacity to stare into the whirlwind of God and demand an audience with the divine. Peter denies Christ and yet is chosen as the leader of the church. Even Jesus falls on his knees in the garden, asking God if he really needs to go forward with what lies ahead. All of these people are stronger for their doubts and grow in their faith through their questions.
Every so often I like to do something called “Stump the Pastor”. It is a chance for us to embrace the questions that are on our hearts and give voice to them. Sometimes the questions are simple like, “Why is the symbol of our church a cross and flame?” (Cross is for Jesus, Flame is for Holy Spirit). Other times the questions are a little abstract or bizarre like, “Do aliens need Jesus, or do they have their own?”. Other questions reflect those deep struggles we all face like “Why does God allow evil in the world?” and “Why are some prayers answered and not others?”. My goal is not to provide answers, though I do share my thoughts, but instead to help us explore the questions. Simply getting an answer and then stopping limits our chance for growth. It is through delving into the answer, and into what is at the heart of the question that we really start to wrestle with God and we have a chance to really be blessed by the experience
Questions to Ponder:
What is a question you have for God?
When is a time you have felt like you were wrestling with an angel?
What is a blessing you feel you need in your life?
Who is someone you know who is marked by their struggles with God?
Prayer: God of deep mysteries and great unknowns, we always wrestle with you, seeking a blessing. Help us to embrace the questions and doubts that are in our hearts. Give voice to those parts of us that long to be known. Help us to hear what it is that you are speaking to us today. Give us the courage to ask the questions and seek the answers that we might grow in our faith and our love for you. AMEN