The Wrestling Match

Wrestling with God cropped

This striking painting depicts the story of Jacob wrestling with a mysterious stranger in Genesis 32. The stars in the background look down Jacob and the stranger, whose identity is hidden behind his garment. Jacob leans with all his might into his opponent, who has a hold of Jacob’s foot. Jacob’s face is buried in the blue shroud and the two bodies are intertwined in such a way that a wrestling move could turn into a bear hug at any moment.

Prior to this match, Jacob found himself on the banks of the river, alone and terrified, waiting to meet his brother Esau. Last Jacob knew, Esau understandably wanted to kill him. Jacob had stolen his birthright after all. And now Esau is coming to meet him with four hundred men. It does not sound like the makings of a happy reunion.

So here he is—alone—wrestling with his fears, and eventually wrestling with a mysterious stranger in the shroud of night. In the beginning, Jacob doesn’t know who his opponent is, but in verse 28, the stranger says, “you have struggled with God and have overcome.” And when Jacob realizes this, it becomes his turning point, his transformation. He goes from wrestling with God to clinging to God. He goes from struggling with God to holding on to God. God says, “let me go,” and Jacob doesn’t want to. He wants God in his life. He realizes that it is God’s blessing that matters, not all the other things he has been chasing after and cheating for all his life. He realizes that if he doesn’t have God’s blessing, he has nothing. And despite the pain and danger, he holds on.

Like Jacob, we too must meet God alone, and like Jacob, we are only able to see God when we recognize our own weakness and vulnerability without him. God wrestles us into a transformed life; he doesn’t comfort us into a transformed life. Or, as C.S. Lewis put it, “God whispers to us in our pleasures, but he shouts to us in our pain.”

Being Human connection: We all struggle with God, but when all is said and done, it is never a meaningless struggle. Wrestling with God means being in a relationship with him. And an amazing blessing awaits us if we hold on. God invites us to engage him. Get down and dirty with him. He can take it. We can pound our fists on his chest or throw our arms around him in a bear hug. Whatever it takes. He invites us into the ring. It is the fight of and for our life. And the ironic thing is that it is in surrendering that we win.

Featured art: Jack Baumgartner, Jacob Wrestling the Angel of God, 2019.