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Resting in the Wrestling

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Why did God wrestle with Jacob? Timothy Wan meditates on Genesis 32 and finds comfort that God wrestles with us.

As the sermon series on Genesis draws to a close, I find myself returning time and again to Genesis 32, in which Jacob encounters God by the Jabbok—an encounter that takes the form of a wrestling match. Why couldn’t God just go ahead and give Jacob the blessing? Why does He wrestle? Why does He wound? And in a similar vein, why does God make us go through hardship? Why must we strive and struggle to get what we want?

The answer, I think, must be that there is something that the wrestling itself brings Jacob; he is better off having wrestled for the blessing than to have simply received it. To wrestle is to cling, to hold on with all your might, to push back, to resist, to try and overpower your opponent. To wrestle with God, an opponent who cannot be overpowered, is something else: it is to expend all of your strength and to find yourself lacking. Imagine wrestling a blue whale. It’s near impossible—you could push and heave against it with all of your might and it wouldn’t budge. What would pushing against God, who measures the waters in the hollow of His hand, feel like then!

Or perhaps it isn’t lost on us, for struggles can often feel that way—like pushing against an immovable object. I often imagine the thoughts and feelings and words and actions that a Christian ‘ought’ to have, and I find myself falling short. As with Paul, I find that I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out (Rom 7:18). For me, wrestling with God means pushing against His sovereign vision for what my life should look like, and attempting to push for my own. Often my own vision does not come to fruition, and when it does, it fails me. For at times—and I trust this is mercy—God uses the slightest fraction of His power to do to my plan as He does to Jacob’s hip: He shatters it.

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Therefore, the wrestling account brings me comfort: as we learn the futility of pushing ‘against’ God, we learn more of our human limits and God’s limitless power. We learn more of what the Psalmist says when he asks, “what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him?” (Ps 8:4). More importantly, wrestling doesn’t just reveal His power (and our powerlessness); it reveals His incredible mercy and patience. The blue whale crushes us; God does not, even though He well could. We are not crushed by God because another was crushed in our place; the limitless power of God was unleashed on Christ at the cross that we might be spared—the same power that raised Him from the grave.

Because of this, we can find rest in our wrestling. We don’t need to worry if we do not see ourselves progressing as quickly as we’d like, or if we aren’t yet where we’d like to be in our walk with God. For the walk is a wrestle, a constant adjusting to life with God and learning where we stand in regard to Him. Just because you are still doesn’t mean you are stagnant; just because you are not moving does not mean you aren’t making progress. Wrestling, then, is a blessing, for it teaches us that we need not overcome God; in Christ, we prevail.

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