On Wrestling with God.

“It is here, in this encounter between Jacob and God, that we discover why the Jewish community is marked out by the name “Israel.” This title represents the spirit of a people who have “wrestled with God and with men and have overcome.” This name illuminates the living dynamic of Hebraic faith. It magnifies a radical idea that marks out the Jewish people, describing something almost paradoxical about this faith: that absolute commitment to God involves a deep and sustained wrestling with God. In this story we discover that the Israelites are to be marked out, not as a people who live out their faith through unquestioning submission but as a people who demonstrate their love and commitment to the source of their faith in a radical commitment to fighting with that source. This is a people to be marked out by struggling, by passion, by critical engagement.
The name Israel is not some kind of curse, or dispassionate description, it is a blessing. Here God does not merely describe something that the Israelites do; the name describes what they ought to be. The people of God do not merely adopt this name; they are inscribed within it and they affirm it in the fabric of their lives. While the Islamic faith is derived from a word that can be translated as “submission,” the tribes of Israel bear a different name, one that evokes the image of conflict, tension, and turmoil. Thus, if relationship with God within this tradition is to be understood as promising peace and harmony, it cannot be understood as a peace and harmony that stands in contrast to a kinetic life of tension, striving, and conflict. For the blessing that God bestowed upon Jacob brings us face to face with the fact that God wants a fight,” (Peter Rollins, The Fidelity of Betrayal, 32-33).

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4 comments
  1. societyvs said:

    I always like the story of Jacob and the wrestling with the angel of God (or God – depending on how view’s God representation and that means in the story). He gets blessed at the end of it which is cool, a name change. He becomes Israel and this sets in motion a name of the latter faith.

    I think it is true about Judaism – this wrestling aspect and their debate about the meaning of scripture…they do a lot of it and become very skilled orators and defenders of their faith.

    Christianity should have followed this same pathway but we did not. Many Christians (as much as 60%) have little biblical knowledge and even this story about Jacob would have them wondering where to find it. We just don’t wrestle with God, we have it all figured out…thanks creeds of the past.

  2. Paul Lubberts said:

    Actually, the creeds could easily be understood as Christianity’s own wrestling with God (in my opinion of course). The first ecumenical creed, the Nicene (or Nicene-Constantinopoliatan) creed was not an attempt to figure God out at all. It was n apophatic endeavor which was concerned not with who/what God was but rather defining what/who God wasn’t. In this regard I do believe that the followers of Christ have in fact wrestled with God. I don’t defend all creeds by any stretch but I think they are absolutely necessary. In fact, unless I’m mistaken, I think that parts of the NT even bear the marks of some creedal formula’s. However, I would agree that there is an inherent risk in loosing the sense of wrestling with God in overdeveloped theology and creeds. For me creeds/orthodoxy should serve as the venue and guide for wrestling/orthopraxis. They set the boundary markers for the life of struggle, joy and worship.

  3. societyvs said:

    “Actually, the creeds could easily be understood as Christianity’s own wrestling with God” (Paul)

    I agree…we see that in those councils. But I am not sure we have a strong academic history in churches for promoting independent thought and reasoning. In fact, I think it may be the opposite. Churches seem to fight against thought that goes against anything creedal or of their affirmation of faith (in their denom). I will give a few examples.

    Is God one or is God three? The trinity is the creedal belief and has not been very challenged in the past 1700 years or so. However, prior to Christianity there is no such entity nor teaching. I guess we can call it revelation or whatever, but then let it be open for discussion and Christians should be allowed to deny such an idea if they feel the proofs are against it?

    The virgin birth – is it neccesary? The creeds actually uphold this idea and churches to this day hold this tenet safely and securely as ‘fact’. What if someone see’s the proofs arriving at another conclusion – like it’s a myth and it’s made-up. Prior to Jesus, Judaism held no such idea – not even for the messiah.

    But you question either of those, kiss your position in the church ‘good bye’ and your status in the church community as ‘meaningful’.

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