Wrestling with God

Wrestling with God

Jacob was left alone. And a man wrestled with him until the breaking of the day. When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he touched his hip socket, and Jacob’s hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him. Genesis 32:24-25

When I was 35 years old, I played football for a local amateur team for one summer, reliving my glory days. I had a tremendous amount of fun – until my season abruptly ended in injury. I was playing defensive line, against an opponent who significantly outweighed me. I was quicker though, and I’d gotten by him enough times that he was frustrated. So, after one play, he chased me down, intending to run over me. I should have just dropped, taking his legs out as he bore down on me, but instead, I thought that I could plant one leg and stand my ground. I think I imagined him bouncing harmlessly off me, but that’s not what happened. Instead, as his full weight hit me, my left knee crumpled, tearing my ACL and ending my glory days. In the contest between me and that giant, I held my own for a while, but I completely misjudged the terrifying power of him running full speed at me, and I paid the price.

I’ve done something similar with God. In my addiction, I prayed countless times for God to miraculously remove my hunger. If you just change my appetite, then I’ll change my behavior. God consistently responded that I must change my behavior – get help, go to treatment, confess, change my life – and then my appetite would change, but I refused to do any of those things. I contested God’s will, wrestling with him, thinking I could prevail. I was a fool. Eventually, God tired of my nonsense and made it hurt. It was only in that tremendous hurt that I finally bowed to God’s will.

This echoes Jacob’s wrestling match with God from today’s passage. Jacob had long before, been chosen by God to carry on the lineage of his people, but that didn’t mean Jacob was a monk. His entire life was a fight. Jacob brawled with his brother both in the womb and out of it. He contested his father’s will, deceiving him and stealing his brother’s blessing. God repeatedly promised to bless Jacob, but Jacob had to do things his own way. Now, in today’s passage, as he returned home, he feared his brother Esau. God promised Jacob protection, but still, he was afraid, once again wrestling with God’s will. So, in a strange story, Jacob and God literally wrestled all night, with Jacob refusing to yield. As day approached, God dislocated Jacob’s hip, ending the match.

We too, often wrestle with God, defying his will. We claim faith, but we follow ourselves, opposing God. This is a battle we cannot win. Even in getting our way, we lose. God created us to find our peace, joy, and meaning only in him. We may attempt to find it elsewhere, but it will always end in hurt. If we desire authentic life, we find it only in following God, daily seeking him and his will for our lives. With God, we paradoxically win only through surrender.

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