Since I was a kid, I've found a passage in Genesis 32 weird and confusing. You know the one I'm talking about: when Jacob wrestles God:
24 So Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him till daybreak. 25 When the man saw that he could not overpower him, he touched the socket of Jacob’s hip so that his hip was wrenched as he wrestled with the man. 26 Then the man said, “Let me go, for it is daybreak.” But Jacob replied, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” 27 The man asked him, “What is your name?” “Jacob,” he answered. 28 Then the man said, “Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with humans and have overcome.” 29 Jacob said, “Please tell me your name.” But he replied, “Why do you ask my name?” Then he blessed him there. Genesis 32:24–29
What is going on here? The story has theological implications regarding ancient Israel. But I think we can also draw some personal application from this strange little passage — personal application that has nothing to do with dogging God until he relents and blesses you with that expensive house or dream job.
Do you wrestle with God? Do you help the people you lead to wrestle with him?
If we're honest with ourselves, God isn't always who we want him to be. He doesn't always do things the way we wish he would. He doesn't always see the world the way we wish he did (which happens to be the way we see it). He can appear stubborn and intractable. That's true in the pages of the Bible, and it's true in our lives. When we bump into something about God that makes us uncomfortable, we have a choice. We can ignore it or we can wrestle.
When God does the unexpected or allows the unwanted, brushing aside our doubts feels like the path of least resistance. We don't want to anger him with our questions. We don't want to entertain thoughts that may undermine our faith in him.
But wrestling is the better path. It's what God wants for us. It's essential to building a strong and authentic faith. It's biblical and relational.
Jacob wasn't the only person in Scripture to wrestle with God. David wrestled (1 Chronicles 13:11; Psalm 44). Jesus wrestled (Matthew 26:39). These moments of personal struggle with God's will are grounded in genuine relationship, not blind faith in religious dogma. That's the kind of relationship God wants with us: one in which we learn (through experience) to trust his character even when we struggle to understand and accept some of his choices.
Wrestling can feel like separation from God, so we try to avoid it. We try to brush aside our doubts and emotions. But when we ignore the parts of God that make us uncomfortable, we create little-g "gods" in our own images — harmless little false deities that believe all the things we believe, carry around all the cultural assumptions we carry around, and are devoted to our (usually self-centered) priorities. We worship ourselves, not God.
Wrestling with God is a matter of reaching out to him as he is. It requires embracing his vastness and unpredictability. It's kind of scary. But it's the foundation for deep levels of trust in a heavenly Father who is trustworthy even when don't understand what he's up to.
God sacrificed his only Son because he loves us. Based on that alone, we know we can trust him. We also know he loves us enough to allow and encourage the wrestling.
So, wrestle. Help the people you lead to wrestle. Don't settle for easy theological answers to life's challenges. Wrestle with your heavenly Father. Because wrestling requires connection, and that connection is far more valuable than easy answers.