I love stories of people who wrestle with God – stories about people who have great faith and who walk closely with God; people who aren’t afraid to name injustice when they see it; people who are willing to say, “God, how can you let this happen?” In some sense, it might seem presumptuous to question God. Job’s friends certainly thought so. But I think that a deeper look reveals that people who wrestle with God have moved past outward appearances and are working on an intimate friendship.
Here are some of my favorite stories…
Jacob – Of course, I need to start with Jacob, the original wrestler. He was involved in the ultimate all-nighter (Genesis 32) and would have prevailed, except for what seems to be a dirty trick by God. (What’s up with that, anyway?) Nevertheless, Jacob still hangs on and demands a blessing from his previously unknown adversary before letting him go. Anna Maria Johnson has reflected more on this story in an article in The Mennonite.
Habakkuk – I learned to love the Hebrew prophets during a class that I took from Jo-Ann Brant at Goshen College. The prophets were all wrestlers, although some were more willing than others, it would seem. Habakkuk begins his prophecy with this complaint:
O Lord, how long shall I cry for help,
and you will not listen?
Or cry to you ‘Violence!’
and you will not save?
Why do you make me see wrongdoing
and look at trouble? (Hab 1.2-3, NRSV)
So God answers Habakkuk, and when Habakkuk doesn’t like the answer he complains again. And then he has the audacity to insist on an answer:
I will stand at my watch-post,
and station myself on the rampart;
I will keep watch to see what he will say to me,
and what he will answer concerning my complaint. (Hab 2.1)
A Canaanite woman – Matthew 15 records the story of a woman whose daughter was tormented by a demon. She wanted help, she knew Jesus could provide that help, and she wasn’t willing to stop her shouting until she got that help. (And she didn’t care one bit if the disciples were bothered or not.) Jesus tested her, saying that his ministry was to Israel, but she (in faith) anticipated the broader reach of his work to the nations. And so, her faith was rewarded.
Abraham – In Genesis 18, God shares with Abraham the judgement that he has declared against Sodom and Gomorrah. In response, Abraham questions whether God would carry out his judgement against the wicked even if there were righteous ones present. God relents, and says that he wouldn’t execute justice if fifty righteous people were found. Abraham proceeds to question God further, and the number is reduced: forty-five, then forty, then thirty, then twenty, then ten. Philip Yancey points out that Abraham stops asking for mercy before God stops granting it! He further wonders,
Was God, so quick to concede each point, actually looking for an advocate, a human being bold enough to express God’s own deepest instinct of mercy?
It is a question we should each ask ourselves. Let the wrestling begin.