God showed me something perplexing this week: He invites us to wrestle with Him. All out. He welcomes our challenges.
This goes against my very nature, though. I was the compliant child. As an adult, I take getting along with others as far as it depends on me seriously. (See Romans 12:18.) I really, really want to get along with everyone. I don’t handle conflict well.
But conflict with God? I don’t think I’ve ever handled that at all. He’s God. He’s the boss. What He says goes. If I don’t like it, tough—I must accept it and move on. My opinion on the matter doesn’t matter at all.
Turns out, it matters to God. In fact, because He loves me, it matters to Him very much.
In Genesis 32:22-32, we read of Jacob wrestling with God all night. It’s a bizarre, little passage in the Bible, but the timing makes sense to me. Jacob had been away from home for years. He’d run away because he’d wronged his twin brother, Esau, who declared his intention to kill Jacob. While away, Jacob had worked for his Uncle Laban, acquired wives, fathered several children, and accumulated great wealth.
Now Jacob is returning home and preparing to meet Esau. It’s the night before the big reunion, and Jacob is spending it wrestling with God. And I kind of think this was a gift from God.
Jacob was preparing to face his life’s greatest failure. In the world’s eyes, he was a success. He knew he’d been blessed by God. But at this moment, he probably had to deal with a lot of self-doubt, self-recrimination, and fear of the future. The wrestling match showed Jacob that he had overcome (v. 28). He had seen God’s face, and yet, his life had been spared (v. 30). He could move forward with confidence in spite of his past. Jacob needed to know this. And he probably also needed the limp that would stay with him as a result. It would remind him of what he had been through and learned.
Two other Bible passages come to mind when I think of wrestling with God. In Psalm 13, David challenges God. He asks, “How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and day after day have sorrow in my heart? How long will my enemy triumph over me?” Then he demands either an answer or death!
Two verses later, he prays, “But I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation. I will sing the Lord’s praise, for he has been good to me.”
What?! When I first read this, I had to go back over the first few verses to make sure my eyes hadn’t skipped to another chapter. They hadn’t. David’s emotions reversed just that quickly. He told God exactly how he felt about his circumstances, and in the telling he found the strength to trust.
Paul describes a similar thing when he tells the Corinthians about his thorn in the flesh (2 Corinthians 12:7-10). Three times he asked God to take it away from him. That’s not meek submission; that’s wrestling with God. Paul pled with God to take that thorn away until he found peace in living with it. And then he took delight in it because his weakness revealed God’s strength.
When we’re facing something scary but unavoidable, when God has the power to change circumstances we don’t like but refuses to do so, when we’re tired of enduring to the point of despair, God invites us to wrestle with Him in prayer. He doesn’t want to hear the right words, the submissive words, the sanctified-holy, perfect words. He wants us to tell Him how we really feel. He wants us to voice the honest words. (He knows we’re thinking them anyway—even when we don’t or won’t admit, even to ourselves, that we are.)
It’s in the wrestling we learn that God is strong enough to trust. He can handle us, and He can handle whatever threatens us. We may not like a situation, but we will learn through the experience, through our patience and perseverance, through our very survival—or not, God’s strength will show through our weakness. With Him, we’ll eventually overcome all.