Wrestling with God

Eleven days ago on January 1st, I published a blog post titled, All Things New (Again).” It was regarding starting off the new year with renewed vigor and leaving the past behind, and it is based on Isaiah 43:18-19:

Remember not the former things, nor consider the things of old. Behold, I [God] am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness, and rivers in the desert.

What I have discovered is that the past (especially the bad stuff) is very tenacious, and it doesn’t want us to let go and move on. It wants us to wallow in it until it consumes us, and it’s clever in the ways it sneaks into our thoughts when we least expect it, especially in the middle of the night when we have no control over our thoughts while we are sleeping.

As I was reading a devotion this morning, it brought to my mind the account from Genesis 32:22-32 of Jacob wresting with God. As I was thinking about it, I wondered if it is okay for us as Christians to wrestle with God especially regarding matters that are sometimes overwhelming to us or that pop up in the middle of the night while we are sleeping.

I went looking for an answer on Google, and one of the links led to an answer given on GotQuestions.org to the question, What is the meaning of Jacob wrestling with God?” Here is the information they provide:

To best answer this question, it helps to know, among other things, that deep-seated family hostilities characterized Jacob’s life. He was a determined man; some would consider him to be ruthless. He was a con artist, a liar, and a manipulator. In fact, the name Jacob not only means “deceiver,” but more literally it means “grabber.”

To know Jacob’s story is to know his life was one of never-ending struggles. Though God promised Jacob that through him would come not only a great nation, but a whole company of nations, he was a man full of fears and anxieties. At a pivotal point in his life, Jacob was about to meet his brother, Esau, who had vowed to kill him. All Jacob’s struggles and fears were about to be realized. Sick of his father-in-law’s treatment, Jacob had fled Laban, only to encounter his embittered brother, Esau. Anxious for his very life, Jacob concocted a bribe and sent a caravan of gifts along with his women and children across the River Jabbok in hopes of pacifying his brother. Now physically exhausted, alone in the desert wilderness, facing sure death, he was divested of all his worldly possessions. In fact, he was powerless to control his fate. He collapsed into a deep sleep on the banks of the Jabbok River. With his father-in-law behind him and Esau before him, he was too spent to struggle any longer.

But only then did his real struggle begin. Fleeing his family history had been bad enough; wrestling with God Himself was a different matter altogether. That night an angelic stranger visited Jacob. They wrestled throughout the night until daybreak, at which point the stranger crippled Jacob with a blow to his hip that disabled him with a limp for the rest of his life. It was then that Jacob realized what had happened: “I saw God face to face, and yet my life was spared” (Genesis 32:30). In the process, Jacob the deceiver received a new name, Israel, which likely means: “He struggles with God.” However, what is most important occurred at the conclusion of that struggle. We read that God “blessed him there” (Genesis 32:29).

In Western culture and even in our churches, we celebrate wealth, power, strength, confidence, prestige, and victory. We despise and fear weakness, failure, and doubt. Though we know that a measure of vulnerability, fear, discouragement, and depression come with normal lives, we tend to view these as signs of failure or even a lack of faith. However, we also know that in real life, naïve optimism and the glowing accolades of glamour and success are a recipe for discontent and despair. Sooner or later, the cold, hard realism of life catches up with most of us. The story of Jacob pulls us back to reality.

Frederick Buechner (1926-2022), one the most read authors by Christian audiences, characterizes Jacob’s divine encounter at the Jabbok River as the “magnificent defeat of the human soul at the hands of God.” It’s in Jacob’s story we can easily recognize our own elements of struggle: fears, darkness, loneliness, vulnerabilities, empty feelings of powerlessness, exhaustion, and relentless pain.

Even the apostle Paul experienced similar discouragements and fears: “We were harassed at every turn—conflicts on the outside, fears within” (2 Corinthians 7:5). But, in truth, God does not want to leave us with our trials, our fears, our battles in life. What we come to learn in our conflicts of life is that God proffers us a corresponding divine gift. It is through Him that we can receive the power of conversion and transformation, the gift of not only surrender, but freedom, and the gifts of endurance, faith, and courage.

In the end, Jacob does what we all must do. He confronts his failures, his weaknesses, his sins, all the things that are hurting him . . . and faces God. Jacob wrestled with God all night. It was an exhausting struggle that left him crippled. It was only after he came to grips with God and ceased his struggling, realizing that he could not go on without Him, that he received God’s blessing (Genesis 32:29).

What we learn from this remarkable incident in the life of Jacob is that our lives are never meant to be easy. This is especially true when we take it upon ourselves to wrestle with God and His will for our lives. We also learn that as Christians, despite our trials and tribulations, our strivings in this life are never devoid of God’s presence, and His blessing inevitably follows the struggle, which can sometimes be messy and chaotic. Real growth experiences always involve struggle and pain.

Jacob’s wrestling with God at the Jabbok that dark night reminds us of this truth: though we may fight God and His will for us, in truth, God is so very good. As believers in Christ, we may well struggle with Him through the loneliness of night, but by daybreak His blessing will come. (Quote source here.)

Unfortunately, it is so true what the author wrote above regarding our Western culture and our churches in how we so often “celebrate wealth, power, strength, confidence, prestige, and victory.” And we despise and fear weakness, failure, and doubt” along with “discouragement and depression,” and we tend to view them as “signs of failure and even a lack of faith.” However, reading the story of Jacob really does pull us back to reality.

Also, I find that when this kind of struggle spoken of in the last paragraph above pops up in my own life, it tends to happen in the middle of the night. And, it is often true when it happens that by daybreak the specific anxiety or struggle has passed. It does not necessarily mean that the struggle in the middle of the night has a clear answer yet, but that the anxiety over the struggle has passed.

In an article published on BusyBlessedWomen.com titled,  Wrestling with God,” by Admin (AnnMarie),” she writes:

What Does it Mean to Wrestle with God?

Have you ever thought that questioning God was wrong? The truth is that it actually takes faith to come to God for wisdom and guidance when you do not understand something. It is better to come to Him with a humble heart asking for discernment and guidance instead of losing heart or turning away from Him in anger, disappointment, or discouragement.

I love this picture of Jacob and God wrestling.  It’s as if God is saying that He knows our fears and anguish and will come to us and help us work through them.  It may take a while, but He’s ok with it, as long as we come to Him (not turn to worldly influences) to wrestle through our personal struggles.

Meaning of Jacob Wrestling with God

I also love this reminder that God doesn’t force us to give in to his will.  Verse 25 says “When the Man saw that he could not overpower him”…

Of course, God could have pinned Jacob instantly. But that wasn’t God’s reason for wrestling with him in the first place!

God didn’t pin Jacob down and make him cry “uncle”.  He didn’t force his will on Jacob.  The wrestling had to do with Jacob’s struggle of obeying God’s command to move back home. God let Jacob wrestle all night long. God patiently wrestled WITH Jacob until he was ready to fully surrender to God.

No more deception. No more scheming. From now on it had to be God’s way, not “Jacob’s way.”

God lets us make move after move as we work through our uncertainties, dilemmas, and trials.

Jacob’s Hip

To remind Jacob that His will is sovereign, God finally dislocates his hip to end the match. Ouch!

God was preparing Jacob to return to Canaan, the promised land, and Jacob needed to understand that God was in control. At that point, Jacob realizes he is wrestling with God and that he needs God’s blessing in his life to go forward and reunite with his brother. Jacob finally fully surrenders and trusts in God.

Jacob’s limp lasted his entire life. What a reminder that he needed to surrender and trust in God every day! (Quote source here. The above quote is only a small part of the entire article so be sure to read it in it’s entirety at this link.)

In an article published on September 13, 2021, titled, Wrestling with God: Is It Wrong?” by Benita Weens, MA, MDiv, LMHC at Seattle Christian Counseling, she writes:

Depending on your understanding of who God is, you might initially think that the answer to this question is “No.” God is a lofty, powerful being you shouldn’t trifle with. So, the idea of wrestling with him seems flippant, arrogant, and even disrespectful. It seems too much like playing with or disobeying God.

However, one of the ways God describes himself is “The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness” (Exodus 34:6).

Another passage reminds us that “The high and lofty one who lives in eternity, the Holy One, says this: ‘I live in the high and holy place with those whose spirits are contrite and humble. I restore the crushed spirit of the humble and revive the courage of those with repentant hearts.’” (Isaiah 57:15).

God dwells with those who are humble and repentant, and if we are his children, that means us. In many other places, we are reminded that God is willing to meet us in our weakness, that he knows us through and through. All this is in the Old Testament! The God of the Old Testament is the same as the God and Father of Jesus in the New Testament.

To help us understand God better, and what wrestling with God is all about, we can look at a few examples of people wrestling with God throughout the Bible, such as Abraham, Moses, Daniel, Jacob, Hannah, Paul, the unnamed Canaanite woman, the unnamed Samaritan woman, and Jesus with his Father in the garden of Gethsemane. [Specific stories available at this link.]

This wrestling took several forms. Sometimes wrestling with God is about going back repeatedly in prayer over something that is confusing us that he has said or that is happening in our lives.

Sometimes, the wrestling looks a bit like negotiating with God, and at other times it looks like reminding God of his promises while asking him to act. At other times wrestling with God is about struggling to come to terms with God’s will for our lives and seeking strength to go with God’s plan. (Quote source here. The above quote is only a small part of the entire article so be sure to read it in it’s entirety at this link.)

And in one last article published on February 11, 2019, titled, A Prayer for When You’re Wrestling with God,” by Debbie McDaniel, contributing writer on iBelieve.com, she writes:

Some days get hard. The pressures of life can start to feel like a struggle. Maybe we’ve been waiting on an answer to the prayers we’ve been praying. Yet God’s timing seems off. We start to wonder if He’s even listening, or if He really cares about all that concerns us. We may feel stuck in difficult situations. We just don’t know what else to do.

If you’re wrestling today, in your thoughts, in your heart, and peace seems far away, press in close to Him my friends. He is near to all those who are crushed in Spirit. He gently reminds you He is faithfully leading, even in the most difficult of times. He will carry you through all that He’s purposed in His heart for your journey in this life. Often our greatest battles are more about what is unseen than what is seen. We may not fully understand why everything has happened the way it has this side of heaven. But we can be assured that God is a light-bringer, a hope-giver, and He will use this trial for great good, both in our lives, and in those around us.

And who knows, but that you were called to this season, for such a time as this…. (Quote source here. Click here to read her prayer and the rest of her article.)

I’ll end this post with the words mentioned at the end of the article above found in Esther 4:14…Yet who knows whether you have come….

For such . . .

A time . . .

As this . . . .

YouTube Video: “God, Turn It Around” by Jon Reddick (ft. Matt Maher):

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here