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SOUNDINGS : Wrestling with God

Can you imagine going to a party and meeting someone for the first time, and telling them about the thing you are most ashamed about?  Your brokenness, your sin?  Would you immediately tell them about the thing that you most desire in the world or for your life?  At this party, would you get angry with a new acquaintance?

No, because you don’t know them enough to be truly honest.    You’re not intimate with them.

Who do we actually fight with?  Family.  Who do we share our pain with?    Who knows our sin?  Our friends.  Who do you share your deepest longings with, or tears?  Our spouse.  We honestly share our deepest feelings, especially the hard ones, with people we are most intimate with.

Intimacy begins with honesty.

If we’re honest, sometimes we’re not happy with God, and in those times honesty with him leads to intimacy with him.  I’m not talking about bringing him the lesser things, like wanting a puppy or a new coat or new car, but rather bring to him the real things of our lives:  longing for freedom from sin, desire for a relationship, the sickness of a loved one, our sadness at  horror inflicted on a child, a project that we’ve pursued out of obedience and it’s not going well, our hurts and confusions.  Sometimes, we’re not sure where God is in these things. 

But if we want intimacy with God, those are the times to be most honest with him, even if our honesty is ugly.

Some of my favorite passages of the Bible are examples of people who were being honest with God, like Moses in Exodus 5.22-23, or the Psalmist in Psalm 88.18, or Jeremiah in Jeremiah  20.7-8.   And then our Lord Jesus himself in the Garden of Gethsemane, and even more so on the cross, saying to God, “My God! My God! Why have you forsaken me?”

How often do we pray like this?   All these people had a deep intimacy with God–they knew God and were known by God, and were faithful.  And they were brutally honest with him with their deepest feelings.  And then they kept on obeying.  And God blessed them.

What keeps us from this kind of frank honesty with God?  We might have a wrong view of God, that somehow he’s “up there” and not really concerned about MY life and problems.  We might have been taught that you aren’t supposed to talk to God that way.  Maybe our shame is too deep…we’re so embarrassed by our brokenness that it’s hard to pray about it because then we have to face up to it ourselves.   Maybe our longing is too deep, and too painful to acknowledge.  We might not be sure that God will come through.

One of my favorite stories the Bible is Jacob wrestling with God in Genesis. 32.24-26 “And Jacob was left alone. And a man wrestled with him until the breaking of the day. When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he touched his hip socket, and Jacob’s hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him. Then he said, “Let me go, for the day has broken.” But Jacob said, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.””

Because we know that intimacy requires honesty and sometimes honesty means that we wrestle with God, what do we learn about wrestling with God from Jacob?

First, wrestling with God is statement of faith:  we believe that he’s close enough so we can hit him.   You don’t wrestle with someone who is a hundred miles away.   You wrestle with someone who you believe is actually close to us.  You don’t take a swing at someone you don’t believe is close enough to hit.

Second, as we wrestle with God, we realize that it is passionate, intense, and tiring, but also tender and intimate.  A rabbi once said, “Wrestling with God is a lot like making love.”*  What he meant by that is that we when we are most honest with God we are most tender, intimate, and vulnerable to him.  And he holds on to us very tightly.

Third, wrestling with God leads to blessing-  Genesis 32.28 “Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with men, and have prevailed.” …And there God blessed him.”

But it’s not the wrestling that brings blessing, it’s the intimacy that is shown, the bald faith and unwillingness to let go of God, even when it hurts.

Sometimes the blessing comes in the getting an answer to our deepest feelings or even desires.   But whether or not we get the answer we want, the greatest blessing of wrestling with God is knowing that he is near us, and that he loves us.

So, How do we become more intimate with God and with Jesus?  Show up, be honest, make love, get loved.





(*quoted in Don Postema, Space for God: The Study and Practice of Prayer and Spirituality, a marvelous book)

Art credit for post: Jeff Gill