To celebrated the fact that my book, “Nineteen Days,” is closer to being finished (the story of my son, Samuel James Parkins and his battle with Congenital Diaphragmatic Hernia), I wanted to include an article I wrote for a magazine recently. It is called “God Wrestling with Us”:
Genesis 32.22-32 gives a strange account of our Patriarch Jacob and his wrestling match with God all through the night. The thing to note first and foremost in this story is that it is terrifying. Terrifying in the fact that the Lord became something holy different than anything Jacob had known before. At this point at least, we can see the Lord was not wrestling with Jacob to have a good time; the Lord was Jacob’s opponent.
Throughout the course of Jacob’s life we see him having multiple enemies; particularly in Laban. He anticipated an enemy to be his older brother Esau and was completely frightened by him. But the Lord? God was no enemy to Jacob; one can make an argument that Jacob viewed God as simply friendly, almost a benign figure whom Jacob could manipulate or turn to his advantage when things got difficult.
I wonder how many of us view God in this same capacity?
The Lord is the great Physician, the great Healer of our souls. He is the Provider, the Resting Place, our Righteousness and our Victory. He sent His only Son to die for us, and without a healthy fear of God, we can see that God is more for us than for Himself. But God is more passionate for His glory than for ours; and like Jacob, we oftentimes use God for our own gains in life and our own wants. Now, in this wrestling with God, Jacob finally realized that God cannot be used for our means. He discovered quite suddenly that the Lord is to be feared, that like Aslan in the Chronicles of Narnia, He is terrible and He is lovely.
Perhaps this incident proved in the life of Jacob a true understanding, for the first time, that God is God, and the he was simply a child of the Most High. Jacob is seen to have a profound change in his life from this moment on; so much so that his entire name changed as well. Yet before the match, life’s circumstances had reduced him to helplessness. He needed God to intervene. The eleventh hour had arrived and God has still not delivered him. It was a crisis of faith, and he was at his wits end.
I’m sure many have felt this way before, when all hope seems lost. Perhaps it comes after a great victory or a terrible event.
Enter God into the mess of our lives.
We find in Genesis 32 that this Man wrestled with Jacob, not the other way around. We have to realize by this passage that the Lord was the instigator of the wrestling; Jacob no doubt was not in the right frame of mind to wrestle! James Montgomery Boice states, “It is not that Jacob was seeking God so earnestly that when God, as it were, got close to him, he grappled with him and refused to let him go until he blessed him. It is true that Jacob later begged for a blessing. But at the beginning it is not Jacob who seeks God to wrestle with him; rather, it is God, who comes to wrestle with Jacob to bring him to a point of both physical and spiritual submission.”
The Lord is not a God to be manipulated, but a God to be worshiped.
A.W. Pink writes, “Jacob was not wrestling with this Man to obtain a blessing; instead, the Man was wrestling with Jacob to gain some object from him. As to what this object is the best of the commentators agree—it was to reduce Jacob to a sense of his nothingness, to cause him to see what a poor, helpless and worthless creature he was; it was to teach us through him that all important lesson that in recognized weakness lies our strength.” That’s one of the main points we see in this wrestling with God. Weakness is broken into submission, and submission is where there is strength. Submission to God’s leading and God’s control, realizing that there’s nothing stronger or more determinant that this.
The Lord of the universe, the one in whom we see the majesty of his handiwork in the heavens and starry host, is perfect in every way. He does no wrong. Regardless of how we see the circumstances played out, He does no wrong. Regardless if we are injured deeply, He does no wrong. He alone is the sovereign Lord and He alone has His will done and accomplished. God will always win the wrestling match; if we were smart, then the sooner we submit, the better.
My life was put out of joint when my son died two years ago. I wrestled with God till the very end, even blowing into my dead son’s lungs, praying for healing, wrestling. God used this situation with my son to bring me to the end of myself and turn me back to Him. He did it in such a profound way; though He allowed me to wrestle with Him, to complain to Him, to be angry at Him, He nonetheless had His way because His way is always best. I am not suggesting that the Lord does this in every pain; sometimes He has other purposes. It is much too beyond us to understand the full breadth of the purposes and sovereignty of God. But oftentimes He uses the hurt in our lives to bring us back to Him, to put us in our proper place, so that we cling to him in our weakness so that He shines through.
In the upside down Kingdom where to be poor is to be rich, to mourn is to be comforted, we see the profound reality of the gospel in Genesis’ account of a wrestling match. Having come into contact face to face with the Lord of hosts, with the ever patient and faithful one, we see at long last a broken and contrite Spirit humbled to his core. We see a man dependent upon God, rather than dependent upon himself. We see in Jacob a picture of a man renewed by the power of God, now remade in His own image, finally surrendered to the will of God for his life. We see in no small measure great faith worked out. It is beautiful to behold indeed; it is something we all must surrender to; to find our lives, we must lose them.