By Ben Swift
Everyone – pantheist, atheist, sceptic, polytheist, monotheist – has to answer these questions: Where did I come from? What is life’s meaning? How do I define right from wrong and what happens to me when I die? These are the fulcrum points of our existence. (Ravi Zacharias)
The Hebrew name ‘Israel’ means ‘One who wrestles with God’ or ‘One who is honest and direct with God’. In fact, according to the website www.mishpacha.org the quality of confrontation and engagement with God, as opposed to pure submission, remain characteristic of the Jewish faith. It was through Jacob’s wrestling encounter with God that the nation of Israel received its name.
“No more shall you be called Jacob, but Israel,” declared the angel, “for you have wrestled with God and with men, and have prevailed.” (Genesis 32:28)
The Christian life is a struggle in many ways. As Christians, we wrestle both with the internal and the external. As the Holy Spirit works in the Christian to transform them, conforming them to the likeness of Christ (Romans 8:29), there is an ongoing struggle between conflicting natures within.
Jacob provides us with a clear example of this. When we read of his early life in Genesis, we see an illustration of the internal conflict between natures within a believer. Jacob’s life demonstrated good and bad, weakness and strength, with inconsistencies abound.
The apostle Paul was not immune to the same kind of internal struggles. This is evident in Romans 7:15 when he says, “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do”.
As Christians we also wrestle with the external. Conflicting interpretations of scripture, ethical dilemmas and discerning what is of God and what is of man can cause us all to struggle in our journey with God’s truth. Perhaps this is why Alister McGrath used the title, ‘Christianity’s Dangerous Idea’, for his book on the Protestant Reformation where he discusses the radical idea of individuals being able to interpret the Bible for themselves.
My personal involvement through the years in a number of Christian groups has meant that I have had to wrestle with a range of different and often contrasting ideas, teachings and focuses associated with Christianity. From associations ranging from evangelical Anglicanism through to Pentecostalism and work within Christian schools rooted in the Lutheran Church, I have wrestled with what is of God’s truth and what is of man’s agenda. These times of wrestling are times of growth and in the end are important times for the Holy Spirit to work within us.
A few years ago I was being trained in Brazilian Jujitsu (BJJ) by an army chaplain named Mick. He called his gym ‘Jacob’s Gym’. Whenever anyone starts learning BJJ, particularly males, they often struggle with the idea of submission which is what the art of BJJ is all about. If your opponent works you into a position that could result in a painful experience such as being choked out or dislocating an elbow joint, rather than suffer the pain you are encouraged to ‘tap out’, that is tap your hand on the ground or on their body. By wrestling with opponents and learning to submit you learn a lot about your own strengths and weaknesses. This was seen by Mick as a parallel to the Christian life where we continually grow and learn to submit to Christ in our lives. One thing I will always remember is a badge that was worn by Christian wrestlers that read, ‘Jesus never tapped’. No matter how unbearable, Christ never tapped out but endured everything needed for our salvation.
In life one thing is for certain. We will all come across hardships and struggle to comprehend the way life is panning out. It is especially in these times that we need to be encouraged to persevere in our wrestle with God and what he has to say in our lives. So let us not ‘tap out’ when life becomes overwhelming or difficult to bear, but instead lean on God’s truth, wrestle with it and draw strength from it.
What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God – through Jesus Christ our Lord! (Romans 7:24-25)