Have you ever been in a wrestling match with somebody? I’m not talking about a little backyard tussle with your friends. No, what I mean is a grueling, sweaty, back-and-forth slugfest. If not, maybe you can at least imagine: Strength against strength, will against will, heart against heart. There are no gadgets or innovations. It is everything that you are versus everything that they are.
My guess is, not many of us have gone through this type of event. Not many of us would want to. Yet, this scenario seems all too real. We can all recollect the faint memory of a time when we have stood facing an opponent, heart pounding. All of us have at least considered dropping our belongings and lunging forward to push back against their imposing stance.
What about when Jesus said “if you hold anything against anyone, forgive them?”
What about when he declared, “No one comes to the Father except through me?”
What about when he commanded, “Sell your possessions and give to the poor?”
Was there not something inside of you that urged for resistance? Wasn’t there something inside of you that just didn’t understand? There certainly was for me. But what do we do? Push back against God? Wrestle Him? Of course, we dare not. Or at least, we dare not admit it. Resisting God is unthinkable – it’s anti-Christian. It’s best just to stay quiet, to ignore the tension. We would much prefer the glowing image – the sign of someone marked by God. We want to leave with our hands clean.
But when our hands remain clean, they look very little like our Savior’s.
Jesus came to get dirty. Jesus came to die. He made controversial statements so that we would question them, so that we would push back. See, here’s the point: you cannot get any closer to God than when you wrestle with Him. He wants us to engage Him.
Genesis 32:22-32 recounts the story of a man named Jacob who literally wrestled with God. He was so determined in the fight that God had to wrench Jacob’s hip out of its socket in order for the match to end. Jacob walked with a limp the rest of his life.
What if being marked by God, doesn’t mean looking like a glowing image? What if being marked by God instead looks more like being crippled? See, when we wrestle with God, we will be forced to submit to Him. It hurts, it’s painful, but it’s beautiful. The scars that we have on our bodies show how close we were to a certain event. They are a mark for everyone to see, and a reminder for us to always remember. When we struggle with something that God says, or who He is, we need to lean in. We need to fight it out with Him. We need to delve deeper into His person. And when we do, we can receive His blessing, just as Jacob did.
Here’s the ironic and paradoxical truth about wrestling God: when you submit to Him, you win. Although Jacob was crippled in the match, God declares in verse 28, “you have fought with God and with men and have won.” How strange! Yet, God understands that when we are most intimate with Him, when we are forced to submit to His will, we are truly blessed. Our greatest joy is when we lay helpless and exhausted in the arms of our Redeemer. We win the fight, because He has won it for us.
After the skirmish, God renamed Jacob Israel – “he struggles with God.” How fitting. This is the name that God chooses to characterize His people. So, let’s press in, let’s engage, let’s wrestle. When we do, we will be a people who are crippled, marked, and blessed.
“‘Your name will no longer be Jacob,’ the man told him. ‘From now on you will be called Israel, because you have fought with God and with men and have won.’” – Genesis 32:28
You cannot get any closer to God than when you wrestle with Him.