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  • Writer's pictureRev. Chris Brademeyer

What Should I Do When God Doesn't Care?

Wrestling with God

Reminiscere, the 2nd Sunday in Lent – 2/25/2024

Genesis 32:22-32

Rev. Christopher W. Brademeyer

 

That portion of God’s holy Word for consideration this morning is our Old Testament lesson from Genesis in the 32nd chapter, with special emphasis on verses twenty-two through twenty-eight which read as follows:

 

“And Jacob was left alone. And a man wrestled with him until the breaking of the day. When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he touched his hip socket, and Jacob's hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him. Then he said, “Let me go, for the day has broken.” But Jacob said, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” And he said to him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Jacob.” Then he said, “Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with men, and have prevailed.””

 

Thus far the Scriptures.

 

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

 

I believe it would not be an overstatement to say that everyone has wrestled with God in their lives. What I mean by this is that all of us have wondered about why certain things have transpired the way that they have in this world. No doubt, there are many questions that we could raise to God from the mundane such as missed opportunities or failed dreams, to the more substantial such as suffering and death. And, likely, you have either been around someone who has cried out against God for their state in this world or have done so yourself. Perhaps it was a short time. Perhaps it was for a long time. Either way, this period of realization was spent wrestling with God. I feel rather confident in saying that your wrestling was in the mental and spiritual sense and not in the more physical sense given in our Old Testament reading today.

That is to say, wrestling with God typically takes the form of the sort of struggle where we wonder about God’s actions and care for us. It usually looks more like sleepless nights than physical contest. What is most tragic about this sort of contest is the all to common conclusion of it. Namely, we often simply give up and abandon the struggle and go on into unbelief and abandon God and His Word and His Church. If you take time to talk to people who have left the church many, though not all, will express some version of this story. A bad thing happened. Something didn’t work out. There was a loss or hardship. And in the midst of that, God seemed far away or silent or absent or unreal. And this was too much to bear and so the person left the faith. Typically, such leaving is not done with a formal announcement, but instead comes by quietly disappearing. Which, as an aside, is something we all need to be on the watch for. Keeping track of our members and encouraging them to faithful attendance is the duty of every Christian, not the pastor only.

This reaction to flee from God and His Word is the wrong thing. It does not lead to peace or salvation. It deprives one of the forgiveness of sins. So, then, what should a person do when confronted with such turmoil in life?

The answer is revealed in the example of our father Jacob. This passage before us describes an unusual event: Jacob wrestles with God Himself. To put this into an historical context, Jacob is the grandson of Abraham. His name means “grasper”, which he earned by being born grasping the heal of his twin brother, Esau. Jacob was a trickster and schemer. He stole Esau’s birthright and blessing by various dishonest means. He left home to get a wife and lived with Laban until he earned the right to marry both Leah and Rachel, which is a whole story in itself. Eventually, Jacob worked off his bride debt and made his way back home with his wives and children in tow. Being a fairly smart man, he sent messengers to contact his brother Esau who at this time was living in the land of Edom, to the south of Canaan. The reason for this was simple: Jacob had taken much from Esau by taking his birthright and the blessing of their father. Both of there properly belonged to Esau, the oldest son.

Jacob’s messengers returned with the report that Esau was coming with four hundred men. This worried Jacob and he arranged to send gifts, bribes really, ahead of him. Jacob sent his family ahead of him across the Jabbok River and spent the night engaged in this wrestling contest. And, just so you’re not left hanging on what happened when Esau and Jacob meet the morning after our reading this week, Esau forgives his brother and the two are reconciled.

But, in the night before this fateful meeting, Jacob is met by a man and they wrestle. By the end of this contest, it is revealed that Jacob actually spent the evening wrestling with God. What is more interesting is that it is recorded that Jacob prevails against God.

This may be a bit surprising, after all, it is difficult to imagine how anyone could win any sort of contest against God. And, to be fair, in His divine nature God is so far beyond us that no contest would even be possible. But, in this world, God comes through means and in limited ways that can be struggled against and resisted. This is why, for example, not everyone who hears the Word of God becomes a Christian. And this is why Jacob was able to prevail against God. That is to say, God mercifully came as a man in a limited way which allowed Jacob to grab hold of the Lord and prevail. The Lord Himself even recognizes this and changes Jacob’s name to Israel, which means “he who strives with God.”

                So what did Jacob do here that serves as an example for us when we struggle with God? He didn’t let go. Even though Jacob was not winning in a clear-cut way, really this struggle was more a stalemate in terms of the wrestling, Jacob refused to let go until he got a blessing from God. This, then, is the thing we are to emulate. God wanted to bless Jacob, and had many times prior to this promised to do so. And so, in His mercy, God allowed Jacob to wrestle Him in order that Jacob would not only demand, but would receive, the blessing of God. Jacob clung to God through this strange episode until God finally gave him the blessing he desired.

                When we wrestle with God in our own way, the faithful posture is to do likewise. When things don’t make sense or God seems absent or uncaring, cling to Him in His Word and hold tight. Grab hold and give God’s Word a shake and keep doing it until the blessings tumble out on you. God wants you to have blessings and He will certainly grant them. The struggle is in clinging to this promise even when it appears that such blessings are in scant supply.

                This notion, seen here and in places like the book of Job, often seems strange to us. There is something in the modern Christian imagination that rebels against this idea of stubbornly grabbing onto God and demanding from Him what He promised. It feels like it’s the opposite of pious and respectful. But if anything can be learned here from Jacob and from great saints like Job, this is something that God loves us to do. He delights in our refusal to take no for an answer when the matter of His promises is up for discussion. He wants us to cling to Him with stubborn abandon. And, as He does, He grants life and salvation through the death of Christ to those who look to Him to do so.

                So, when things get hard and the work and presence of God seems lacking, do not run from Him. Instead, cling to Him stubbornly and with reckless abandon. And you will receive what He has promised.

 

In the holy Name of + Jesus. Amen.

The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

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