Wrestling with God

I’m learning more about myself during lockdown; but it’s not been a pleasant process.

I have not discovered a fresh inner resilience or positivity; compassion; creativity or peace. I haven’t learned a new language. I haven’t gotten fit and I haven’t been wrestling with the weeds. I have however, been wrestling with God.

I started bargaining with him a few weeks ago. ‘Dear God,’ I said, ‘I can deal with the scary headlines. As long as I can still hug friends and family.’ Lockdown started.

‘Dear God,’ I said, ‘I can cope with changes to routine – as long as the kids can stay at school.’ The schools closed.

‘Dear God,’ I said, ‘I can handle lockdown – as long as I can get a bit of exercise.’ I tumbled on the stairs and now I’m on crutches.

‘Dear God,’ I said, ‘I can cope with everyday life, if I can keep a bit of household routine.’ The house is a tip, the kids are feral and I can’t move around to tidy it up.

Compared to what others are facing, this is nothing. But I’m finding it hard. I’m learning that what I naturally depend upon is not just Jesus. And every time I turn to a new crutch, God whips it away. How am I supposed to keep trusting in you? I ask. God answers, ‘Maybe it’s time to really start.’

There’s a great story about wrestling with God, in Genesis 32. Here we meet Jacob, the younger of Isaac’s two sons. Jacob is a trickster, a hustler and a liar. He’s always got a scam or scheme that will make him; from deceiving his brother, to tricking his father and then his father-in-law. He thinks he’s the boss; but his grand schemes come to nothing and leave chaos in their wake. What an idiot! Yet his motto is also mine, ‘Thanks God, but I’ve got this.’ Give me what I need and I’ll deal with life by myself. I’ll manage my fortune and my family. I’ll manage my lockdown.’

So what does God say to Jacob, and what might he be saying to us?

Jacob Wrestles With God

22 That night Jacob got up and took his two wives, his two female servants and his eleven sons and crossed the ford of the Jabbok. 23 After he had sent them across the stream, he sent over all his possessions. 24 So Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him till daybreak. 25 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. 26 Then the man said, “Let me go, for it is daybreak.”

But Jacob replied, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.”

27 The man asked him, “What is your name?”

“Jacob,” he answered.

28 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.”

29 Jacob said, “Please tell me your name.”

But he replied, “Why do you ask my name?” Then he blessed him there.

30 So Jacob called the place Peniel, saying, “It is because I saw God face to face, and yet my life was spared.”

31 The sun rose above him as he passed Peniel, and he was limping because of his hip.32 Therefore to this day the Israelites do not eat the tendon attached to the socket of the hip, because the socket of Jacob’s hip was touched near the tendon.

Genesis 32:22-32

For the first time in his life Jacob is alone. He has sent away his family and he’s sent away all his possessions. His usual props are gone, now he’s left alone — except for a man who wrestles with him until daybreak.

We learn in v28 that the man Jacob wrestles with is God. This wrestling takes place all night and Jacob refuses to let go unless God blesses him.

How often do we ‘wrestle’ with our circumstances when dark times come upon us. Remember, Jacob does not yet know it’s God he’s wrestling with. I wonder how many times I’ve railed at life when really I’m railing at God. Through the wrestling though God decides, progressively, to introduce himself to Jacob. And Jacob begins to say, ‘I’m in the dark but I will hold on to you. In all the pain and strife, I want to know your name — to know you. I will keep on praying and wrestling, till you give me what I really need: more of yourself.’

Jacob asks the man’s name, but instead God gives Jacob a new name. He says, I know YOU, who you really are and not just the name that’s been given to you by others, or that you’ve tried to make for yourself.

Jacob is blessed but it’s not like the earlier blessings he had stolen through deceit. Earlier in Genesis he had tricked his family and their loss was his gain. Now he gains a true blessing — but it comes at a cost. In this encounter it’s God who comes in disguise and instead of Jacob pretending to be someone else, he is given his true identity.

Instead of wrangling prosperity Jacob wrestles God and it weakens him. From now on he will be disabled, always dependent. He will walk with a limp. And his stick—his crutches!—are a reminder of his ongoing need for the Lord. He has a new name that is recorded throughout generations, but it’s the name the Lord gives to him, not one he’s made for himself. In all this wrestling it’s God’s power that’s displayed in his weakness.

Right now, we can feel like we’ve been waylaid — by life, by coronavirus, by the government. But the Lord is showing up, perhaps anonymously at first. We may not have known that he’s the one we’ve been grappling with. But he is. And he’s calling our name. Now, instead of seeking to overcome our circumstances, we need to cling to God through these circumstances, to know him in them. And instead of despising our weaknesses and our wounds, we can see them as marks of the true struggle. Our limps are not signs that God has abandoned us: they are signs that he has us and will not let us go.

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5 thoughts on “Wrestling with God

  1. My lockdown experience doesn’t sound like it’s been as tough as yours, but this is still the reminder I needed to seek God as he really is.
    Thanks for writing this Emma

  2. Hi Emma

    May the Lord bless you and keep you and make his face shine upon you and give you peace. I’m a 65 year old (well almost…. later this month) Christian man who has struggled with depression for…. well, a long time. Like you books were my thing. I was an English teacher for many years. Like you I have analysed a good deal though I personally find it helpful to try to not think but just rest in the consciousness that God is good. My point is I know a little of your struggles…. God is not only good he is great. He is able to do far more than we ask or think. You know all this, I know, but it can be a help to remind each other. A useful mantra for me is ‘one thing at a time, slowly’.

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