Striving and Limping

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Our lives are full of countless headwinds. Very few things in life come easily. When they do, we are usually right to be skeptical. Some theologies attribute this to the fallen state of the world. This may be the case, but I would add that it is fallen by design and thus the struggle we all face in life is not a punishment for the sin of an ancient grandfather, but the necessary context through which we can experience life and beauty.

Jacob was the younger twin of his brother Esau. His name implies the grabber of the heel because Esau was born with his brother Jacob still striving and clinging to him. Though born into a lineage of great promise, Jacob was the second born (even by minutes) and thus he played second fiddle to Esau who had the right to receive all the blessings of his father Isaac. Genesis 25-27 depicts how Jacob deceives his father and tricks his brother Esau and receives the blessing due his brother which sets up the ultimate family feud.

Jacob later is tricked by Laban (his father in  law) in like manner and lives most of his life striving against him until one day he manages to escape with all his wives and kids.

I share this backstory to enable us to see that Jacob is striving or fighting on all sides. He is striving with his brother whose land he is now entering and fearful of what may happen to him. He is striving with is father in law and fearful of what may happen to him when his is found.

Jacob is in the midst of tremendous struggle. This is when he goes off alone in the wilderness and ends up wrestling with what he first thinks is a man. The struggle goes all night and Jacob refuses to let go until this “stranger” blesses him.  Finally, Jacob is struck in the hip socket and he realizes that it is God with whom he is fighting.

Jacob is striving with both man and God.

At this time Jacob is given a new name. He is no longer called Jacob the trixter or heel grabber, he is called Israel, meaning strives with God.

So often we think that our struggles mean that God has abandoned us. In fact, one of the main causes for atheism today is that people look at the world and all its suffering and they determine that if there is a God, then he/she must not be very good.

Strangely, many religions and theologies promote this idea that if God is for you then you won’t have struggle, or they teach that God’s blessing means the end of our striving.

This story reveals a theological window through which we can see how suffering and struggle are the path to God. So much so that God names his people “Strives with God.

If we would see God in the world and possess a fresh experience with the transcendent, then we must begin to see, as Jacob did, the blessing contained in the struggle, not the eradication or avoidance of struggle. The new name of Israel, cost Jacob his hip and his old identity. In like manner finding God will cost us our old name and identity.

Our strivings and sufferings wear us down. They humiliate us and expose our own stupidity, arrogance, and self-reliance. If we still think we can circumvent them by sheer effort, determination or strategy, then we haven’t yet come to point of throwing in the towel, nor a trajectory where we can see God working. Some of us never will because we are too prideful, but remember, faith is birthed in the moment of surrender.

If we walk with a limp because of all we have faced, it may be that we are blessed beyond measure. How sad it would be to miss this because we were looking for it somewhere else. Ironically, when Israel’s promised messiah finally came, the people didn’t recognize him because they could not accept this paradox. Our modern religious world is not much different today.