There is this mysterious story in Genesis about the forefather Jacob wrestling with a man at the Jabbok River. Some believe this man was an angel or God, but the whole scene is quite fascinating and offers what I believe to be a unique invitation to us today. While wrestling, Jacob tells the man, “I will not let you go unless you bless me” (Genesis 32:26). The man/angel/God responds by renaming him Israel, which means “struggles with God.”
When Jacob wrestles with God, God blesses him and renames him. Our tradition as followers of Jesus is built upon the name “struggles with God.” Not “has all the right answers” or “has figured it all out,” but “struggles with God.”
I’ll never forget being told that I was asking the wrong question by a Rabbi. I was in college learning how to study the Bible and he kept repeating that I was asking the wrong question. He was talking about the purpose of Scripture and the stories we were exploring, and it took me some time to fully understand the depth of what he was saying,, but it has stuck with me ever since.
He was teaching me that life is not primarily about getting all the answers so that we can be comfortable in our rightness. It’s about asking the right questions and wrestling with the implications in real life.
The truth is, most of life is a mystery.
The more we learn about our world through science, the more we learn just how little we know. The more I have explored the Bible and my relationship with God, the more I have realized that I have barely scratched the surface.
When I get comfortable in my faith and think I have all the answers, I get complacent, bored, and stop growing. Furthermore, I have discovered that when I stop wrestling with God and how to follow God in my daily life because I think I have arrived, those are the times I have stopped listening to other perspectives, pulled back from relationships, and ceased striving after God as I did when I had questions.
When we wrestle and refuse to leave until a blessing comes,, we can better understand the perspectives of others, invite peace where we thought it wasn't possible, and grow in ways we never could have imagined. When we wrestle in love and humility, we don't only bless others but open ourselves to blessing as well.
Our world doesn’t need more people who think they have all the answers, but more people willing to do the hard work of working out what it means to love God and love others with humility and openness.
We are invited to wrestle. Wrestle with God.. Wrestle with what it looks like to follow the way of Jesus in the 21st century in all its complexity.
The good news is we don’t have to do this wrestling alone. We are invited to wrestle with one another. Sometimes this means we will disagree. Sometimes we are going to get it wrong. But we continue to wrestle with each other, God, and this mysterious life we have been given until we are blessed. This is our tradition.
I’d like to invite you to take some time today to reflect on areas of your life where you feel you have arrived or figured it all out and challenge you to ask some new questions. Maybe it’s related to how you understand the Bible or theology. Perhaps it’s in a relationship, a political perspective, or how you spend your time and money. It could be anything. Become curious again and wrestle in the presence of God and others.
You may just discover that God blesses you as God blessed Jacob thousands of years ago.