Struggle: when you don’t understand
Building on the discussion about sorrow, the next stage is struggle. Our tendency is to push things down and avoid dealing with him. Dealing with those difficult things will make us sad, it will be hard…and that is exactly why we shouldn’t allow them to fester inside. We also need to feel comfortable in our lamentation. It’s okay to be mad about the situation you’re in. You can dislike the changes that have occurred in your life. Struggling with them will bring you closer to acceptance and healing. Know throughout your struggle that there is hope.
In Genesis, Jacob, the man who will be known as the father of Israel, struggles with God. In fact, he actually wrestles with God. When I read this story in Bible Study, it made no sense to me at first. Jacob is returning to his homeland with his large family of two wives, many children, servants, and animals. His brother is a leader in this land and his brother, Esau, also wants to kill him. He is scared for his life. He sends his family on ahead in case Esau catches up with him. That night, a man comes to his camp and wrestles with him until daybreak. They are pretty evenly matched, and Jacob will not give up. Finally, the man breaks Jacob’s hip. Jacob still will not give up. He demands a blessing from the man. The mysterious stranger asks for Jacob’s name; his name, which means “usurper” for Jacob has stolen his older brother’s birthright. The stranger tells Jacob that his name will now be Israel because he had struggled with God and man and overcome. Jacob goes on his way, limping, and names the place where he wrestled with the man to reflect that he had seen “the face of God and yet was spared.”
Confusing, right? The mysterious stranger was God (or an angel, or Jesus, the incarnation of God). He wrestled with Jacob because Jacob was struggling, and he needed to take his struggle right to God. Why did God continue to wrestle with him through the night? Why not just overpower him immediately? To give us free will. God wants you to struggle with Him, because it gets you close to Him, face to face. The struggle is an important part of the process. Don’t just ignore how you’re feeling in an attempt to be polite or non-offensive. Talk it out. Ask questions. Wrestle with Him.
Jacob had really tried to be a good man, and to do right by God, but like all of us, he was human. He made a lot of mistakes. In fact, he did some really terrible things. In the end, he is the father of Israel. He is named Israel. He is buried in the Holy Land with all the pomp and circumstance of a pharaoh. Even when he struggles with God he is loved and rewarded. His struggle brings him closer to God than ever before.
There is hope for you yet.
Watch this sermon here.
*In case you’re wondering, here is the Bible passage from NIV:
Jacob Wrestles With God
22 That night Jacob got up and took his two wives, his two female servants and his eleven sons and crossed the ford of the Jabbok. 23 After he had sent them across the stream, he sent over all his possessions. 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,[f] 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.
30 So Jacob called the place Peniel,[g] saying, “It is because I saw God face to face, and yet my life was spared.”
31 The sun rose above him as he passed Peniel,[h] and he was limping because of his hip. 32 Therefore to this day the Israelites do not eat the tendon attached to the socket of the hip, because the socket of Jacob’s hip was touched near the tendon.