There are images, stories, and descriptions in scripture that become part of us.  The truth of these things just enters into us.  We grab hold of them.  We are changed by them.  We are made whole through them.

            A story from the bible that effects many of us in this way is the story of Jacob becoming Israel.  Sometimes we may not even consciously realize that we are referencing it.  Whenever we say things like “I’m wrestling with God about that.”  We are referencing the fact that Jacob wrestled first.

            If you’re anything like me, you use that phrase a lot.  In fact, if you’re anything like me, you use that phrase too much.

            When I know God expects me to do something I don’t want to do, I say, “I’m wrestling with God about that.”

            When I’m trying to deny some hard-to-swallow truth about God, I say “I’m wrestling with God about that.”

            When I pray, and pray, and pray, and my life circumstances are not changing, I say “I’m wrestling with God about that.”

            In short, any time I want to have my way and not God’s way, I say “I’m wrestling with God about that.”  It’s a pretty interesting rationalization.  It covers up my disobedience with the appearance of holiness.

            It’s not that I don’t think we can wrestle with God.  It’s not that I don’t think we should wrestle with God.  I don’t want to underestimate what an incredibly important and even primal story this is,  nor do I want to suggest that it did not literally happen. 

            Clearly there are important things going on in the story.  God’s people come to be named after this man.   God’s people come to take on a name that means “wrestles with angels.” 

            Sometimes I think that our understanding of scripture suffers for the fact that we don’t translate the word “Israelite” or “children of Israel.”  Someone who speaks Hebrew would be reminded, every time he read the word “Israel” that his people wrestle with God all the time.   It’s much easier for us to gloss over this meaning.

            But I think it’s tempting for us to do something that causes us to lose meaning in an even more important way.  This temptation is to begin reading at Genesis 32 verse 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, [e] because you have struggled with God and with men and have overcome.” “

            It is understandable why we might want to begin here.  It appears to be where all the action is.  But this action is pretty well disconnected from me, if I don’t explore it in context.  If I don’t consider who Jacob was and where he was coming from, it’s so very easy for me to view this like a fairy tale.  It’s so very easy to see this as an intellectual exercise, something disconnected from my every day reality.

            In what follows, I’m going to explore this context.  My hope is to illustrate my own recent path of discovery.  As I read Genesis from the beginning through this passage, what I found out was that Jacob and myself, we aren’t nearly the world’s apart that it appears we are.  We are actually quite similar, Jacob and I.


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The stories that speak to our soul begin at a home where things are good. Cinderella is happy with her father. The three little pigs have grown up and are ready to move on. Bilbo Baggins knows his shire. Adam and Eve walk with God in the garden. My story isn’t much different. There was a time and a place where it was so good. There was a community for me. And there was joy. We were filled with a sincere desire to do what God wanted us to do. We possessed explanations and understandings that went a certain distance. We offered security and tradition and laughter. For a lot of years, that was enough. I have this sense that it was also necessary. I have this surety, now, that it certainly wasn’t everything. There were some things that became increasingly problematic as time went by. There was a desire to package things up so very neatly. Sunday morning services were efficient and strategic. Responses to differences of opinion were premeditated. Formula began to feel more important than being real. A real desire for everybody to be one of us, but also a real sense that there is an us, and there is a them. They carried a regret that it has to be this way, but deeper than this regret was a surety that this is how it is. I began to recognize that there was a cost of admission to that group. There were people who sat at the door, collecting it. Those people wished they didn’t have to. But I guess they felt like they did have to. They let some people in, and they left others out. There was a provisional membership. My friends did possess a desire to accommodate people that are different… But it would be best for everyone concerned if they were only a little bit different. I did make many steps forward in this place. Before I went there, there were lies that I believed. Some of the things that I learned there, I still hold on to. But that place is not my home anymore. Those people are not my community anymore. There were times it was hard. I am engaged in a different community now. And I am working hard at finding a place in many different places now, embracing many different kind of families. I don’t always get it right. I am trying and I am learning and I am moving foreward. I have this sense that I am not alone in these experiences. I believe that we are tribe and we are growing. We are pilgrims, looking for a new holy land. Perhaps we won’t settle on the same spot of land. But if you’ve read this far, I am thinking that we are probably headed in the same general direction. I have begun this blog to talk about where my journey is taking me. In every space, we find people who help us along. And maybe we can get to know each other, here. We embrace ideas that provide a structure for the things we believe, and perhaps we can share these too. Maybe we can form a group, a tribe, a community, if we can figure out a way to work through the shadow of these kinds of groups, if we can bigger than the us-and-them ideas that have caused so much trouble in the past. As important as they are, I think the very nature of online interactions will lend itself to something equally powerful. I am stumbling onto these practices that my grandfathers and great grandfathers in the faith engaged in. I am learning about these attitudes and intuitions are so different than the kinds of things we call doctrine today. I don’t know about you, but I am running out of patience, and even interest, in conversations about doctrine. I hope that maybe you’ll share a little something about where your journey is taking you, and maybe our common joys and challenges might help each other along, and we might lift each other up. Thanks for doing this journey with me.

2 thoughts on “Wrestling”

  1. I look forward to your comments of similarity. That’s what I love about Scripture is that these people often seem unlike us until we really read their whole story and experience what they might have been doing and thinking. I wonder if there is usually one particular bible person that each of us resonate with most. I often think I am similar to Jeremiah.

    I too use that wrestling with God line too much probably. Equating it as not willing to be submissive or obedient to his leading in my life. It is fascinating to me how Jacob wrestled so hard that the other “man” could not overcome him! What’s your thoughts on that?


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