This morning I found myself in a very familiar place: in the ring with God, wrestling.
I am not sure why I am surprised when I end up within the ropes again; after all, Israel, the name God chooses to call His people over and over again, literally means “one who wrestles and strives with God.” God, it seems, is not surprised that wrestling matches between He and His children occur. On the contrary, He seems to encourage and use these wrestling matches in profound ways.
Jacob, the premier wrestler of the Old Testament, received the name Israel after an all-night, twelve-round wrestling match with God Himself. What were Jacob and God wrestling over? Why all the hours between the ropes?
God was bringing Jacob to the end of himself, to the end of his ceaseless striving to gain power and control and a blessing on his own terms. God longed to have Jacob submit to Him, trust Him, and learn to limp with dependence upon Him rather than run in his own power for his own purposes.
In his commentary on the Genesis 32 wrestling match, MacLaren asks the following insightful questions.
“What, then, was the meaning of this struggle? Was it not a revelation to Jacob of what God had been doing with him all his life, and was still doing?..Were not his disappointments, his successes, and all the swift changes of life, God’s attempts to lead him to yield himself up, and bow his will? And was not God striving with him now, in the anxieties which gnawed at his heart, and in his dread of the morrow?”
What I find shocking is the fact that God so often continues to refer to His children as Israel. To wrestle with one stubborn man is one thing, but to proudly refer to your people as those who wrestle with God seems to be quite another. Wouldn’t it seem more honorable to name your child, “One who loves God,” or “One who trusts God,” or “One who serves God?”
But that’s just the thing. God loves our wrestling with Him. In fact, according to MacLaren, “A true Christian is an ‘Israel.’ His office is to wrestle with God.”
God says that the Christian’s job is to continually wrestle with Him. He even goes so far as to lovingly lure us into the ring with Him. He doesn’t shut us down or just knock us out when our desires and prayers seem to strive against His will or His providences, though He could easily do so. He condescends and wrestles with us. He is willing to go twelve rounds or two-hundred rounds to finally bring us back to a place of trust and dependence upon Him. He will have us limp joyfully by His side, not sprint off in our own self-willed ways, no matter how much better those ways often seem.
The narrative of God’s interaction with His people is littered with a long line of wrestlers. Psalm 42 gives the reader audience into the internal wrestling match between the psalmist’s feelings and the truths of God. “Why are you in despair, O my soul? And why have you become disturbed within me? Hope In God, for I shall again praise Him for the help of His presence.” In the New Testament, Paul invites us to the wrestling mat of his heart in Romans 7 where he describes his continual struggle to gain control over his flesh. He also shows us the result of having wrestled with God when he describes the peace and joy of the prevailing gospel in Romans 8.
It’s not that the Christian life is one giant, exhausting wrestling match. We seem to take turns rotating roles in the arena. Sometimes we are the wrestler sweating it out between the ropes; sometimes we are the support team in the corner of the wrestler, sending a tired wrestler back into the ring when they would rather throw in the towel; sometimes we are the spectators cheering when the gospel and its peace and joy ultimately prevail.
Whatever our current role, our hope stems from the fact that it is a good God who is wrestling against our unbelief and sin and for His life and truth to be wrought in us.