Sunday, October 31, 2010

Wrestling as Devotion

When Jacob went to meet Esau, years after the younger stole the birthright of the older, Jacob perceived that his brother intended to bring to naught the blessing of their father Isaac. He heard, "four hundred men are with him," and "he is coming to meet you," (Gen. 32:6).

What else could it be but revenge? Jacob calls out to God, and so began one of the most strange episodes in the history of the people of God.

Night came. Jacob was alone. And a man was there. They wrestled until light returned.
"When he saw that he had not prevailed against him, he touched the socket of his thigh; so the socket of Jacob's thigh was dislocated while he wrestled with him.

Then he said, 'let me go, for the dawn is breaking.'
'I will not let you go unless you bless me.'
So he said to him, 'What is your name?'
He said, 'Your name shall no longer be Jacob, but Israel; for you have striven with God and with men and have prevailed.'" (Gen. 32:25-28)
Jacob had received a promise, and just as that promise appeared to be coming to an end, he begins to strive with God. The blessing he receives as a result is a name, but it is an immense name that came to define the people of God: Israel, "he who strives with God."

If the church is, as Andrew Kirk once said, "an enlarged Israel," (as opposed to a "new Israel"), we still carry this name, though we rarely invoke it. It still marks us, even if it is only a latent marking, like an indelible tattoo on our back. What else is the church, but a people who strives with God? Surely the history of the church, and Israel, bears this out. Faithful men are those who are continually wrestling with God, through prayer seated in the heart; through fasting gnawing at the body; through earnest and tireless supplication. They are faithful people, continually submitting themselves to "the sharp compassion" of the wounded and wounding hands.

What else is apostasy, but refusing to wrestle anymore? It is turning instead to wrestle with an object of wood, stone, paper, or plastic–– one we think we can dominate. An idol lets us believe that we define the rules and set the boundaries of engagement. It lets us think it will bend to our lustful clawing hands–– although in a treacherous twist, we all find ourselves crushed in the end.

Wrestling with God is different. It means He sets the parameters. It means knowing we will walk away limping–– a difficult prospect, for none like pain, and most will refuse Him for it. But in wrestling with Him, we will gain our fitness and our blessing. It is the only way we can be prepared for the rigors of His glory and our joy.


John Paulling said...

Excellent post, Furst. This reminds me of a post on the faith and theology blog called, "Theology and Friendship". In that post Ben Myers makes the point that theologians are not necessarily especially bright or spiritual people, but are people for whom God is especially difficult.

In that post he talks about those who have been, "hurt by God". Generally I think that kind of language is cheesy, and meaningless. But, the Jacob story offers an excellent way of thinking about it, though.

Collin said...

Jon, a very poetic post, and I appreciate your comment, too, John, about theologians being those for whom God is especially difficult (and tantalizing?). I also like the idea of an "enlarged" Israel vs. a new one. How much attention does supercessionism and its alternatives receive at Regent (that is where you are still, right?).

Jon Furst said...

Collin, always good to hear from you.

I think there would be a range of views on this at Regent. To be honest, this particular topic doesn't get talked about much at all. I would guess that the predominant view is arrived at via Tom Wright's work (and then via Rikk Watts). Beyond this, there is perhaps some opposition from a pseudo-Catholic/Dutch Reformed theologian (Hans Boersma) who doesn't believe in much of an "invisible church." This would lead me to believer that it's fairly split, although not explicitly between those who hold to it and those who don't.