Tuesday, 31 August 2010

Wrestling with the Truth

When Jacob wrestled physically all night with a man who turned out to be God, surprisingly, neither prevailed, and finally God dislocated Jacob's hip to bring the struggle to an end. I can understand why Jacob ('father' of the 12 tribes of Israel) got disappointed - no, not disappointed, but angry - with God when things were not going well for him on his return to Canaan after 20 years exile. Can we prevail over God to get his blessing on our plans, when he has some other thing in mind for us?

When disaster hits or you miss out on "the one good thing" that you wanted above all else - a job, a partner, a house - or even a 'good thing' like a cure from an illness or the 'fixing' of a broken marriage, the first question is, "Why, (me), God?" Has it all gone wrong as a punishment? Is it a test of my faith? - (and yes, it certainly is doing that all right!) Where is God's plan for me in this mess? How could a Sovereign God let it happen?

When Christian people I know have been thrown to the edge of depression by such 'undeserved' traumatic events, I used to find it very hard to answer their questions, until it all happened to me.

The answer to my own anguished prayers at a time of extreme trauma came when I was drawn, for some reason, to read the story of Jacob wrestling with the "Angel of the Lord" in Genesis, 32.

Although Jacob and Esau were twins born to Isaac, it was the second-born twin (Jacob) that was destined to inherit God's promise given to his grandfather Abraham and his father Isaac. But Jacob - whose name means 'deceiver' - thought he had to give God a helping hand by tricking Esau out of his birthright. When Jacob fled his brother under the guise of finding a wife from Abraham's kinsfolk in Haran, he had to work for 7 years for his first wife (Leah), another 7 for the wife he wanted in the first place (Rachel), and another 6 years for the flocks and herds he accumulated.

But this was all just a preparation for his return to face Esau and fulfill God's promise in Canaan. Afraid of Esau's reaction, he divided his flocks and household in two (one with each wife) and sent them on ahead to meet Esau. Alone, Jacob wrestled with the "Angel of the Lord" all night before crossing the river into Canaan.

The part of the story that hit me was that rather than let Jacob proceed as his old deceitful self, the Lord disabled him to ensure his submission. Only then did God bless him and renew the covenant promises given earlier to Abraham, and with the blessing, re-named Jacob as "Israel".

Why did this story strike me so forcibly?

Because I had been "crippled" in my own circumstances (both in health and in work situation), and I couldn't understand why my prayers had been falling on deaf ears. Then I could see that I was wrestling with God myself. I would not give up things, good in themselves, that had become the most important things in my life, and let God's plan take over whatever that might prove to be.

Any Christian will see how the teachings of Jesus demand the highest levels of trust, obedience and self-sacrifice. Sometimes God permits us to have life-crippling experiences to put us back on the track He wants us on.