Wrestling with God: blessings over bruises
We have all had our fair share of bruises. Jacob is a perfect example of this. Yet in his story of wrestling with God (Genesis 32), a question rises. What if these bruises from sin can actually be character building points in our lives? In other words, what if, through the story of Jacob grabbling with God, we, like Jacob, can seek out a blessing over the bruises?
I give Jacob a lot of credit here. Out of options and out of hope, he has come to a finishing point in his life. He has hightailed it out of a bad situation with Laban, his father-in-law, and, on the run, he is about to bump into his embittered brother Esau who, by the way, has vowed to kill him. (And you thought you were having a bad week.)
It is here—at this low point—that Jacob’s struggles truly begin. Frazzled from running and anxious for his very life with the reunion of his brother, Jacob concocts a bribe. He sends a caravan of gifts along with his family across the River Jabbok with the plan of pacifying his brother. Now physically exhausted, divested of all his worldly possessions, and alone in the desert wilderness on the eve of facing certain death, Jacob realizes what we all realize after some pretty hard hits: he is powerless to control his fate. At this point, he just has to take it as it comes. On the banks of the river, he collapses into a deep sleep.
That night, an angelic stranger visits Jacob. The two wrestle until daybreak. At this point, the stranger cripples Jacob with a touch to his hip that disables him with a limp for the rest of his life. It is then that Jacob realizes what has happened and says, “I saw God face to face, and yet my life was spared” (Genesis 32:30).
In this revelation, Jacob receives from God a new name, Israel, which likely means: “He struggles with God.”
Most of us struggle with God at some point. After church this past Sunday, when speaking with our deacon chairperson, I happened to be in the cemetery. There, at my feet, an understated tombstone level with the ground half the width of a welcome mat gave one date, 1935. Above the year were carved a baby girl’s first, middle and last name.
THAT was a struggle for those on this side of life.
Some of us accept the pain of life and never wrestle with God. Conversely, some of us flail at that pain and never speak to God again because deeply-seated anger is easier to hold onto then the acceptance that God weeps with us every time we cry.
Then there are some like Jacob who don’t accept loss and bullheadedly hang on for a blessing despite obvious and even scary circumstances. I am one like Jacob. I speak his truth—his story—because it is my own. My foster children are the clearest example of this. I have wrestled with God during my heart-crushing pain and, like Jacob, have received blessings far greater than I asked.
We all get bruises. At times, we all hurt profoundly because our world is sinful. Sometimes the heartbreak we experience from our sins is our own doing. We do reap what we do—or do not—sow.
Other times, we are affected by someone else’s sin. A quote attributed to Saint Augustine speaks to this. “God had one son on earth who didn’t sin, but never one without suffering.”
What you do with your suffering is up to you. You can realize it is sinking you, consider too vast a problem to overcome and never let it teach you that greater love will eventually win in your life. Or, like Jacob, and me, a foster father of five, you can hang on tenaciously. Pain can hurt or heal you. You decide.
For too many years I didn’t have a “and my house” in the verse, “As for me and my house, we will serve the LORD (Joshua 24:15).” I was alone. Single. That hurt! What added to the pain was someone gave me a handsome sign with that verse on it. I kept the sign in the far back corner of a closet for years. I didn’t give it away. I held onto it. Now it hangs on the wall opposite the computer I write from each day.
Hold on to your blessings.