Arm Wrestling with the Almighty

12:39 AM

"Then Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him until daybreak. When he saw that he had not prevailed against him, he touched the socket of his thigh; so the socket of Jacob's thigh was dislocated while he wrestled with him. Then he said, "Let me go, for the dawn is breaking." But he said, "I will not let you go until you bless me."  So he said, "What is your name?" And he said, "Jacob." He said, "Your name shall no longer be Jacob, but Israel; for you have striven with God and with men and have prevailed."......So Jacob named the place Peniel, for he said, "I have seen God face to face, yet my life has been preserved." 

     Let us set the scene. It's a cold, unwelcoming sort of night, but Jacob has to go outside, has to get some air, has to think. His brother, whom he literally bamboozled the inheritance from, was coming to meet him the next day. It wasn't as if they left on good terms, oh no. It was never "Que sera sera" between these twin brothers. They had started wrestling in the womb and never stopped . Life was a constant competition of brawn vs. brains, playing parental favorites and skewing loyalties. But in the end, who would prevail? There was nowhere to run this time. Hadn't he been running these last twenty one years? His entire family, all his livestock, would they be massacred in his brother's fury? What could be done to appease someone who was so clearly bent on his death? And so Jacob paces and wrestles with his thoughts for what seems like hours, until suddenly he stumbles upon a man. Perhaps because of his turbulent state of mind and the stormy thoughts swirling and whirling inside of him, he tackles the stranger to the ground, and thus begins a night long wrestling match into which he pours all of his pent up angst. At last the stranger hollers, "Let me go!" Jacob grunts out that famous reply, "I won't let you go until you bless me!" 


     Did he think he was wrestling Esau in that moment? I haven't the slightest. And why didn't God kill him on the spot? Well, that would be a rather sorry ending for God's chosen people, now wouldn't it? What we do know is that Jacob walked away from that battle sporting a brand new limp and a brand new identity. I put to you the idea that if you choose to wrestle with God you will not walk away unchanged.

     For some reason I tend to attract folks that have been burnt in ministry, perhaps because I've gotten burnt too. Most of my closest friends are pastor's kids. They all have one thing in common, fear of God and fear of Man. Many chose Christianity as small children, because it was what Mom and Dad believed. For some it was a truly sincere response to the loving God presented to them, for others it was out of guilt or obligation. Most have been in one form of ministry or another, oftentimes at far too early of an age. They live their lives in a fishbowl, a strange kind of Christian celebrity, either praised or shunned by a congregation. Often from childhood they begin to resent the microscope upon their life; at some point, they rebel. Sometimes it's in a thoroughly dramatic way, a passive-aggressive spit in the eyes of their parents. But other times it's a slower, less noticeable downhill slide. They develop a secret porn addiction. They drink a little too much or start smoking things of a questionable nature on the side. Or sometimes, they just rebel in their hearts. 
   Of all rebellion, the latter is the one I've found to be the most dangerous, the most destructive. For in the quiet of their own thoughts, which not a soul is privy to, they inch away from God. His nearness, the very thing our souls cry out for more than anything in this world, becomes something they resent. And as they question everything they've grown up to believe, not a soul knows the inner turmoil they face. Usually by the time they confide in someone, the patterns of anger towards God are so deeply interwoven into their souls, it is difficult to go back. And that is what Peniel is for. 


     The name "Peniel" or "Penuel" means to turn to God. If I could encourage you in one dangerous thought, dear reader, it would be to face God and pose to Him your very real questions. If anyone in the world can handle your doubts, it is Him. He actually says,  "Come let us reason together." Isaiah 1:18  He longs for you to turn to Him. He longs to be told what a load of hooey you think this and that doctrine is. You know why? Because it's honest. And if there's one thing God respects, it's honesty. Do you really think a couple of fig leaves are going to do the trick? *Christian kid joke, see Genesis*  There is so much more hope for a man sitting in prison whose wrongs have been outed before the world and who's had to face shame and guilt, than the double life we are often encouraged to lead as Christians. (As an aside, I do not mean we should confide everything in everyone, but rather be honest with those we trust about our struggles.)


    Wrestle with your God! Wrestle with everything you believe! Know why you believe what you do. Know who you are. For goodness sake, know who you are not! But most of all, seek His face during that wrestling. Look the Man of Sorrows in the eye and tell Him exactly what you think. Explain to Him your doubts. And reflected in His eyes see the wrestling of your God. Perhaps you'll see a man, sitting in a garden, on the darkest night of the world, wrestling with the thought of torture and death. Or maybe you'll feel the heartbeat of God in distress. How long until He can bring justice to this world? Why won't people just turn to Him? Must He sweep away the evil along with the good? How can He ignore the cries of His children? Yes, I believe God struggles. He struggles with us. And yet, for some unfathomable reason, He also longs for our company, to walk with us in the cool of the day. If wrestling is the only contact He's going to get with you for now, so be it. He knows you've been dissatisfied with the church and Christianity for quite some time. It's no great surprise to Him and I suspect God ain't afraid of a good fight. :-) Perhaps He rather likes it. So, go out there and find your own Peniel. Be a Jacob and not a Jonah.You will never be the same again and you may forever walk with a limp, but He'll change you from a coward to a king, a Jacob to an Israel and perhaps it will be said of you, "He has struggled with both God and man and has won."


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