Wrestling with God

January 15th, 2008 • Category: My Favorite Scripture
by Robert Ferguson

Today’s scripture: Genesis 32:24-32 (NRSV) (The Message)

As you read, consider: What might God be saying to me? Summarize your thoughts in a sentence or two.

My thoughts (Robert Ferguson):

Today we observe Jacob as a he is about to wrestle a stranger in a dark cavern.

Jacob has quite the checkered past and though he left this place many years ago as a cheat and thief, he is returning now eager to make amends with his brother. Jacob sent messengers ahead to greet Esau and to determine if Esau still wanted to murder him. Esau coming to meet Jacob with four hundred men caused Jacob to have great fear.

But Jacob prays and reminds God of the promises that were once made to him. Jacob then sends his family to safety and he is alone. Suddenly this stranger appears and the two begin to wrestle. Perhaps in the beginning of this tussle Jacob thought he was fighting one of his brother’s men but very soon Jacob realizes he is wrestling with God.

Jacob refuses to let go, as he knows God to be the source of all good things. What I love most about this story is the image of God engaging a human. Certainly this battle could have ended horribly with one blink of God’s eye. But God doesn’t want us defeated. Willing to wrestle all night with Jacob, God allowed him to struggle and engaged him in battle.

This is the same way that God continues to struggle with all of us over the battle between right and wrong, flesh and spirit, or good and evil. I struggle every day with questions of faith, direction in my life, priorities, sins, and blessings. Sometimes God moves swiftly and pointedly in our lives and other times it seems as if God is silent. We want blessings, mercy, grace, and favor from God and God wants obedience, perseverance, maturity and faith from us. It is a struggle that rages on. The secret strategy to this game, as Jacob teaches us today, is to stay in the struggle with God.

So with clenched teeth and the grip of a fighter, Jacob clings to God. Even as a merciful God cripples him, Jacob refuses to let go! We all have battle scars and we can wear them like badges of honor. Yes, I too have been kicked around a little by life and I have, with the help of God, fought a lot of battles to be standing here today. However, each challenge and struggle has made me stronger because I have had to lean on God. When there is nothing else to count on, there is God. Our challenges strengthen and mature us. Adversity and rough times promote perseverance within us, which is the ability to cling to God in every circumstance.

Through Jesus Christ, who received the full measure of life’s wounds and attacks, we learn that through the struggle and the suffering — not in spite of them — God creates new life, making possible our faith. And so we can confront each struggle with all our strength and resources, confident that whatever the wounds, our experiences can be used for God’s redemptive purposes.

The only way that we will certainly fail is to let go of God. When facing problems, temptations, and sufferings it is far better to focus our strength on clinging to God rather than trying to overcome by our own strength. As Jacob demonstrates, we ought to continue in dedicated prayer, for that prayer prepares us for mercy. God gives us strength to do battle, even to do battle with God.

Our human nature wrestling with an infinite, omnipotent God will surely produce broken bones, spirits, or egos; but in that brokenness we obtain glorious victories. God allows us to push, pull, and struggle as long as we’d like, but in the end we realize we cannot prevail. When we see how weak we really are and we cling to God, begging for help, God is faithful to bless our struggle and reward our faith.

Thought for the day: What am I clinging to? With what — or whom — am I wrestling?

We encourage you to include a time of prayer with this reading. If you need a place to get started, consider the guidelines on the How to Pray page.

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