Thursday 11th June 2020 – Wrestling with God
Genesis 32: 22 – 32
The same night he got up and took his two wives, his two maids, and his eleven children, and crossed the ford of the Jabbok. He took them and sent them across the stream, and likewise everything that he had. 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.’ Then Jacob asked him, ‘Please tell me your name.’ But he said, ‘Why is it that you ask my name?’ And there he blessed him. So Jacob called the place Peniel, saying, ‘For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life is preserved.’ The sun rose upon him as he passed Penuel, limping because of his hip. Therefore to this day the Israelites do not eat the thigh muscle that is on the hip socket, because he struck Jacob on the hip socket at the thigh muscle.
When I was a child, wrestling on TV on Sunday afternoon was a big deal. Strongmen with names like Giant Haystacks threw each other around a boxing ring and scored points by pinning down their opponent so they could not move.
When I first met theology as a teenager it seemed to contain some of the same elements: throwing ideas and doctrines around and wrestling with them in the “wee small hours of the morning” wanting to pin them down and emerge with understanding. Knowledge, as they say, is power so understanding gives us a foothold when thinking and speaking about God.
Jacob however had as little success as we do. His unnamed partner strives and struggles and does not give in. Jacob usually gets his own way by fair means or foul but now it seems he has met his match. This is not toying with a knotty problem but entering into the full horror and exertion of thinking ideas through, reading around and listening intently to other opinions and then acting on it.
We have some outstanding wrestlers in the URC. There are historians, linguists, ethicists, doctrinal specialists and all shades of talented and inspired theologians. But if they have one thing in common it is that they, like Jacob, come away from their encounter with text and faith radically changed. If we wrestle with the text and do not allow it to change us we might as well not bother. As we wrestle with the big questions we can recall that Jacob gains understanding and a new name but not on his own terms. The outcome as Brueggemann writes, “acknowledges the crippling victory and the magnificent defeat of that night”. In Phyllis Trible’s infamous words “as we leave the land of terror, we limp.”
God give us grace to wrestle with your Word and be open to the change it will make in our lives.
‘Jesus confirm my heart’s desire
to work and speak and think for thee
Still let me guard the holy fire
and still stir up thy gift in me’
Charles Wesley (1707-88)