What I’m Thinking: Blessing and Struggle

Jacob spent a lifetime in conflict and struggle. Wrestling with an angel (at least, that’s what we think), he also found a blessing.

Here’s a transcript.

I’m thinking about the 32nd chapter of Genesis (Genesis 32:22-31), the story of Jacob’s all-night wrestling match with a stranger.

Now, Jacob was no stranger to conflict. He’d been in conflict with his older brother. He’d been in conflict with his father. He’d been in conflict with his step-father (correction: his father-in-law). He’d been in conflict with first one and then the other of his wives. Later in his life, he would find himself in conflict with his sons. Jacob was no stranger to conflict.

On this occasion, he was actually on his way back to live in the neighborhood with his older brother once again and was justifiably anxious about the renewal of that conflict. He had sent his servants, he flocks and herds, the symbols of his wealth, on ahead. He had sent his children and his wives on ahead. It seems to have been some sort of gesture to say to Esau that he was making himself vulnerable, that he was being generous as he returned to the family home.

But on this night, Jacob found himself wrestling with a stranger. Neither one of them could get the advantage over the other until the stranger actually dislocated Jacob’s hip. Even that was not enough to prevent Jacob from holding on.

Jacob demanded the stranger’s name (which he didn’t get), but the stranger said, you have struggled with human beings and with God, and you have prevailed. Then the stranger blessed him.

I keep wondering if conflict and struggle is really the only way for human beings to live their lives. But apparently, at least some portion of that is the way of the world. Jacob that night wrestled in ignorance. We have come to understand that great wrestling match as one between Jacob and some sort of manifestation of the Divine, of God: an angel, we usually say.

The point is that we, although not physically, we struggle with God all the time. We struggle with God about the things that we do not understand. We struggle with God about the things that we suffer. We struggle with God about the things that we want and don’t have. We struggle with God over the demands that God makes of us. We struggle with God, sometimes, because we’d like God to make some demands of us and God asks nothing.

Struggle with God, struggle with our relationship with God, struggle with our understanding of God: this is, indeed, how it goes.

We, of course, also struggle with the realities of the world, sometimes in real physical conflict with other human beings, but right now, of course, we have a struggle with a pandemic. We have a great struggle over the nature of racial justice in this society. Many, many struggles.

From Jacob we get the inspiration to hang on, not to the conflict but to the struggle, to seek in the struggles themselves what blessing we can find. Struggling with an angel or with God, the blessings will be great. Struggling with a virus, well, the blessings will be less. But there is something in that hanging on that offers the possibility of blessing when we are in the midst of the struggle.

And there is also the possibility of, as the angel said to Jacob, having prevailed – even in our struggles with God. The Scriptures say it is possible to win an argument with God, as strange as that may seem.

But I also note that Jacob did not come away from that wrestling match uninjured. He limped his way back to join his family in their journey toward Esau. When we struggle with these things we may suffer injury. We may find ourselves moving more slowly or more painfully as we come away from the struggle. But we do come away from those struggles, especially the ones with God, we come away from those struggles blessed.

That’s what I’m thinking. I’m curious to hear what you’re thinking. Leave me your thoughts in the comment section below; I’d love to hear from you.

Categories What I'm Thinking | Tags: , , | Posted on July 27, 2020

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