*This blog is a two part series. In this first blog we will ask an important question and then answer it in part two.
The ground shook with a massive boom as the dark figure slammed his opponent’s exhausted body to the ground. The young man lay for a moment, bloody, bruised, and beaten. He knew that if he did not get up again, it would be the end of him for good.
With a grunt of determination and adrenaline pumping through his veins, he pushed himself off the ground and charged the figure again, desperately trying to gain the upper hand. Time seemed to move slowly for the fighter as he flailed his arms, trying to knock out the figure he was battling. Kicking, shouting, and thrashing his body, he attempted anything he could to conquer his rival. But the figure was too fast for him, too quick on his feet—and the young man knew he was losing. Unwilling to quit, he continued, denying all pain in his body and ignoring the begging of his mind to give up. The stakes were too high for him to simply throw his hands up; he was going to win, or he was going to die.
The battle raged on for hours. The young man did not know where his strength came from; he only knew that he could not quit. Each swing of his fist or move of his agile body brought back visions of times in his past life where he had held his anger in. The hurts he had kept inside suddenly seemed to pulse in his every move as he attempted to take down his challenger. He drew on this energy, forcing his heart to feel every emotion and hurt he had ever experienced—using it as revenge toward the mysterious figure he now battled.
This went on all night. The figure slammed the young man to the ground, and the young man got back up, attacked again, and carried on. Neither was willing to stop. Every time the young man found himself on the ground, he paused, took a breath, and started again. He was in the battle of his life, and he wanted to live.
The breaking point came when the figure grabbed the young man’s leg, smashed his powerful fist into his hip, and dislocated the joint; then, pulling and lifting him by the same leg, the figure threw the young man over his mighty head and crushed his body into the ground. This time the young man could not get up, his leg limp and lifelessly, completely detached from its holding place. The only thing keeping the leg from falling off was his elastic skin. Gasping for air, he felt his heart breaking inside his chest as it heaved up and down in a desperate attempt to get oxygen into his exhausted body. I must be dying, he thought. This is my end; I’ve lost the battle.
As the young fighter went in and out of consciousness, the figure bent down next to him. In one last attempt to win, the young man clung to the figure, staring him straight in the eyes. But to his shock, he saw compassion and felt an outpouring of love. The figure was not an enemy but a friend:
Then he [the figure] 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.” Then Jacob asked him, “Please tell me your name.” But he said, “Why is it that you ask my name?” And there he blessed him. So Jacob called the name of the place Peniel, saying, “For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life has been delivered.” The sun rose upon him as he passed Peniel, limping because of his hip. (Genesis 32:26-31)
The battle scene described above is my fictional depiction of the story of Jacob wrestling with the angel. No one knows what that fateful night looked like, but I’ll bet it was probably somewhat gruesome. After all, Jacob was a simple man fighting some form of angel or messenger of God. It seems that it would have been pretty epic if you ask me.
However, all imagining aside, what’s important to note about this story is what the figure replied to Jacob: “You have striven with God and with men.” What does it mean to have striven with God and men? Perhaps we can say that struggling is what Jacob did. He struggled with God—so much so that his name was later changed to Israel, which in Hebrew holds the meaning of “he who struggles with God.”
So what does it mean to struggle with God? Are we allowed to struggle with him? After all, he is the God of the entire universe, the creator of heaven and earth, the great God of judgment and justice, the ruling God of kingship and majesty, and the holy all-powerful One who delivered us from Egypt with his mighty hand and outstretched arm. He is the God who chose us to be a nation of priests, gave us the Torah, sits on a heavenly throne, and is the ultimate power whom we will face on judgment day. Could this also be the God with whom Jacob struggled on a spiritual level? Is it possible, or even acceptable, for us—mere humans—to actually wrestle with God?
See part two for our upcoming answer.