Thursday, November 13, 2008

Wrestling with God

Then Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him until daybreak. (Gen 32:24)

One of the strangest stories in the entire Bible is that of a man who, during one troubled and sleepless night, literally wrestles with God. The man, of course, is Jacob, who finds himself facing what he believes to be almost certain death at the hands of his brother whom, years earlier, he cunningly robbed of his rightful inheritance. Left alone to contemplate his fate, fearful for himself and his family, he is desperate and destitute. He grapples with God.

It is a long night…

When the struggle is over, he is left with a gimp and a new name. His life will never be the same. Having been “touched [in] the socket of his thigh”, he is told by his contender that his name will no longer be Jacob (deceiver, supplanter) but Israel (one who prevails with God). (Gen 32:25-28) He walks away with a physical reminder of the encounter in his hip and a brand new identity. The God of covenant not only saved his life, but protected his family, gave him a new purpose for living, and fulfilled the promise to make him the father of a great nation.

Two weeks ago I found myself lying on a table, left alone as a remotely controlled machine directed a powerful invisible beam of ionizing radiation to my left hip. As I lay there looking up at the artificial skylight created through back-lit ceiling panels, I thought of Jacob.

Our experience has taken us through many long nights. Spent of human resources, desperate for answers, we wrestled with God – and came away with His blessing. The permanent marker used on my thigh to map out the precise direction of focused radiation reminded me that I am now a marked man and will never be the same. I have encountered a faithful God who has assured me of His lovingkindness and secured my destiny.

As I contemplate this story further, I am impressed with the honesty of Scripture. The One who sacrificed His own Son so that we might “have life and have it abundantly” (John 10:10) is not dismayed at our honest contending with Him. In the story of Jacob, He invites the wrestling match. (Gen 32:24) The God of the universe is not too busy to set aside time for a one-on-One encounter that, though it may last the long night, leads us to a clearer understanding of His ultimate plans for our good. If we don’t give up, we not only survive the night, but face the day with a new confidence and hope.

A friend and former patient is still going through that long night. Some years ago, he lost his teenage son, a boy that I was privileged to deliver while practicing in Michigan. I cannot imagine the pain. He has an honest grievance with God. He recently wrote me, “If God loves us, why does He keep hurting us?” My heart aches for him and many like him who have suffered an enormity of loss I will never know. What I do know is that God does not shrink away when we honestly grapple with Him. Even His own Son, whose love constrained him to lay down his life for us, experienced the struggle. (Luke 22:42-44)

Having prevailed through our own long night, I have experienced His touch and the blessing that follows. In Jacob's own words: "I am unworthy of all the kindness and faithfulness you have shown your servant." (Gen 32:10) Daybreak has illumined a clearer confidence in the reality of His promise, the fulfillment and unimpeachable joy that comes with a new identity as His child. My prayer is that my friend will someday know the same.

Glad for the gimp,


PS – There is no more powerful and effective treatment concerning the dilemma of personal pain in the presence of a loving God than the best-selling novel called The Shack. I highly recommend it to you.

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