God is in control, right? And if that’s so and if He loves me, why is He making me or letting me go through this? I realize Scripture says that trials refine our faith (1 Peter 1:6-7), but it feels like the gold of my faith is being burnt alongside the dross. There have been key moments in my life where I’ve come to this crossroad where I feel hurt by God, and I’ve learned He invites me to wrestle with Him to find the answer that I need.
Now, if you know me, I’m not the athletic type. That being said, having four little kids, I’ve gotten into my fair share of wrestling matches. Everyone is piled on top of me, and I don’t know who’s who. My fingers wander to squishy areas and I tickle until one falls off– just to be replaced by another. We are locked into a contest of endurance. Who can last longer? Momma or them. In a more serious way, Genesis 32:22-32 tells us that Jacob wrestled with God in a contest of endurance.
Jacob was a twin, and when it comes to twins, there tends to be a crazy one and one calm one. Given what we know, I’d venture to say Jacob was the calm, calculating twin and he manipulated his brother into giving him both the rights of firstborn son and the family blessing. Part of that blessing was the promise God gave to Abraham to make him into a great and prosperous nation. When he stole the blessing from their father, Essau, his older-by-a-few-minutes brother was livid. So Jacob fled home to avoid being murdered.
He ends up at his uncle Laban’s house, scouting around for a wife. There, he got some of his deceit turned back on him. After being contracted to work fourteen years so that he could get the wife he actually wanted, Laban got Jacob to stay longer with a business deal. That went bad for Laban. He gets frustrated with Jacob and the situation grows tense. Then God tells Jacob to return to his homeland.
So Jacob finally breaks free from the yoke of Laban, taking his earnings of sheep with him. On his way, he has to pass by his twin brother who wants to kill him. He approaches very carefully. When he’s about to pass by his land, Jacob sends many gifts and his wives and children on ahead to meet Esau. Jacob stays the night alone. Or at least that was his intention. A man appears and starts to wrestle Jacob. They are locked in this match until the break of day. The man messes up Jacob’s hip and still, Jacob won’t stop until the man promises to bless him.
The man does bless him thus in verse 28, “Then he said, ‘Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with men, and have prevailed.’” Then Jacob realized it was God in the flesh. (In case you’re curious the fancy word for this appearance of a pre-incarnate Christ is called a theophany.)
Now, my life is not crazy like Jacob’s, but it does have its own trials. Even as I write this, I’m wrestling through deep grief while also trying to balance financial issues, schedule changes, a relocation, and the normal mom stresses. As if the grief wasn’t bad enough to go through. I feel like I can’t breathe or think through it all. But this is exactly where God wants us. Don’t believe the lie, “God won’t give you more than you can handle.” That’s garbage. God wants to teach you to depend on Him. He wants you to seek after Him. We do that best when we find the end of our rope and call out with the groans of our hearts saying, “God, I can’t handle this. I need You.”
I tell you all this to let you know that it is okay to ask God questions, to be upset with Him and wonder about the evils and atrocities in this world. In Jeremiah 29:13 God says to the people of Judah, “You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart.” Jacob is literally fearing for his life as he travels. He prays, asking for God’s help, understanding, and a reassurance of the blessing. God does grant this to him, but not immediately.
God makes Jacob physically wrestle with Him. Jesus desires to be close to us. In our times of suffering, we often feel the most distant from God. For me, it’s even difficult to feel close to the people who are hugging me. But Psalm 34:18 promises, “The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit.” Jacob didn’t realize the man he wrestled with was Jesus until after the match. The same can happen to us. When trials of life come, we fast and pray and read Scripture to get an answer to the questions that burden our souls. It feels like God is distant during those times, but in truth, He’s right there with us. We just can’t see it yet.
Also in this wrestling match, God touches Jacob’s hip and permanently damages it. There’s a cost to seeking after God’s answers. In Matthew 13:44 Jesus tells this short parable, “The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.” The cost of seeking God for Jacob was a hip, the cost for the man in the parable was all that he owned. What cost or sacrifice are you willing to give up while seeking God? I’ve been skipping a meal or two to fast and pray. When I can’t fast, I sneak away late at night or early in the morning to read Scripture and pray. I know that God hears my prayers and will answer in the morning. If you’re wrestling God through physical pain or a diagnosis, that pain can be your cost of seeking God in those times.
Most importantly, in this wrestling with God, you mustn’t give up. God told Jacob that he prevailed over Him. Now, there is no possible way that a man can outmatch the omnipotent God. So if man prevails against God, it’s because God let him as a reward. “Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him.” (James 1:12.) God’s looking for those who lovingly pursue Him so that He can reward them. We show Him our love by never giving up, even when life doesn’t make sense. After wrestling all through the dark nights of life, God will reward us with His blessing in the morning.
It’s okay to wrestle with God. He loves you. Even when you don’t realize it, He’s close to you. There will be a cost to seeking Him, but if you continue to do so without giving up, no matter the cost, He will reward you. The answer God gives you will humble and exalt you. God will always answer in this two-fold way, saying, “I am God and you are not. Humbly trust Me” (Psalm 8:4), and “You are My chosen creation and I love you so much that I would die for you.” (John 3:16)
Click here to read Genesis 32:22-32
“Scripture quotations are from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.”
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