Wednesday, November 06, 2002

Wrestling With God

I only encountered the term “wrestling with God” late last year, from a sister whose love for the Lord amazes me to this day, Shane Male. When she used this term to describe the state of her spiritual life, I thought that the term was unique to her. In no time I discovered that a lot of brothers and sisters used that term freely and I wondered, with my re-renewed (you’re not seeing double, I created that word just now) fire for God at that time, why anyone would wrestle with God. With such love and power and splendor emanating from Him, it would be folly to resist, question, and even disobey Him, I thought.

Last year was, obviously, my honeymoon period with the Lord. I soared high on eagle’s wings.

But in fire gold is tested. With all the uncertainties of life bogging me down, I visited my spiritual directress a couple of weeks ago and tried to relate the events that led me knocking at her door, with studied nonchalance and a touch of indifference, even. I resolved not to break down and cry just because things were not turning out the way I thought they should. My faith was bigger than the challenges before me. I convinced myself that I had masked my emotions from her excellently.

After I finished my little speech, she showed me how skilled and gifted she was, and how wise God is, by commenting that she saw the play of emotions in my eyes, and concluding that, “Ella, you seem to be wrestling with God.” We didn’t have time but I was prepared to argue that I was doing all right, thank you very much, and that all should be well in God’s time. I was not able to say much after that as she took out her Bible and gave out her prescription for my ailment: Genesis 32:23-33, where Jacob wrestles with God. She said that if indeed I realize that I am wrestling with God, we would take it from there.

My limited understanding failed to take in why on earth God would wrestle with a man, His creation, a mere mortal. Night after night I labored over the passage but failed to grasp what God was telling me. It did not in the least bit make sense!

23In the course of that night, however, Jacob arose, took his two wives, with the two maidservants and his eleven children, and crossed the ford of the Jabbok. 24 After he had taken them across the stream and had brought over all his possessions, 25 Jacob was left there alone. Then some man wrestled with him until the break of dawn. 26 When the man saw that he could not prevail over him, he struck Jacob's hip at its socket, so that the hip socket was wrenched as they wrestled. 27 The man then said, "Let me go, for it is daybreak." But Jacob said, "I will not let you go until you bless me." 28 "What is your name?" the man asked. He answered, "Jacob." 29 Then the man said, "You shall no longer be spoken of as Jacob, but as Israel, because you have contended with divine and human beings and have prevailed." 30 Jacob then asked him, "Do tell me your name, please." He answered, "Why should you want to know my name?" With that, he bade him farewell. 31 Jacob named the place Peniel, "Because I have seen God face to face," he said, "yet my life has been spared." 32 At sunrise, as he left Penuel, Jacob limped along because of his hip. 33 That is why, to this day, the Israelites do not eat the sciatic muscle that is on the hip socket, inasmuch as Jacob's hip socket was struck at the sciatic muscle.

I prayed for guidance and wisdom and understanding. I was bracing myself to return empty-handed to my spiritual directress when I realized I could improve on my limitations by using Bible study tools. I studied what it was that Jacob was preparing for before he met the Man who wrestled with him, and what happened after he limped away his victory. Suffice to say that Jacob was preparing for something big that night, and he was alone, presumably, he prayed and meditated. It was not just a physical wrestling match, but a spiritual battle as well. And God was pleased that Jacob’s faith was not shaken even with the concrete challenge before him. He struck Jacob’s hip just as He gave Paul a thorn in the flesh to keep him grounded, lest his victory make him forget all about humility. Jacob was also persistent, he didn’t want to put the struggle to waste, and he insisted on getting a blessing from his opponent. That was when Jacob’s name was changed to Israel. God didn’t want Jacob to be concerned about His name, however. He wanted Jacob to focus on the blessing that He gave him, which was enough. Jacob wrestled with God, won, and gained a divine blessing in the end, limp included.

This was a very strange encounter between man and God, with Jacob not entirely a saintly character winning in the end. Yet, peeling it for its deeper meanings, a lot of my personal struggles with the Lord right now are answered. I am no saint, but with His Spirit, and in Christ who strengthens me, I could be who He wants me to be.

Rather than sulk, pout, or worse, shop, I should be rejoicing that I am in this wrestling match. I see how God is preparing me for the next wave of assignments He will give me by matching wills and strengths with me now. Where is my faith in the God of all Heaven and Earth now that the road before me is full of bumps and bends? Why can’t I believe in His promise just because the world tells me to see otherwise? I have a thing or two to take to heart from Jacob’s lesson. Perseverance, humility, and faith, faith beyond understanding --> these are the things that won for Jacob his victory. It wasn’t Jacob’s strength or his mind that won the match for him. God honored his values and paved the way for a richer life for him.

I can only pray that when the day breaks, I would still be standing up, for me to be able to see the face of God, and to receive His blessing.