Summary: Father Dave’s Sermon on wrestling with God. Real growth experiences always involve struggle and pain. And so Jacob, at the turning point of his life, wrestles all night with a dark and shadowy figure by the river Jabbok. He struggles. He fights. He is wo
"Jacob was left alone; and a man wrestled with him until daybreak. (25) When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he struck him on the hip socket; and Jacob’s hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him. (26) Then he said, "Let me go, for the day is breaking." But Jacob said, "I will not let you go, unless you bless me." (27) So he said to him, "What is your name?" And he said, "Jacob." (28) Then the man said, "You shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with humans, and have prevailed." (29) Then Jacob asked him, "Please tell me your name." But he said, "Why is it that you ask my name?" And there he blessed him. (30) So Jacob called the place Peniel, saying, "For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life is preserved.""
Real growth experiences always involve struggle and pain.
That’s as true for the butterfly that has to fight its way painfully out of it cocoon before it can use its wings as it is for the human being who has to fight her way out of a suicidal depression before she can form meaningful relationships. Real growth experiences always involve struggle and pain.
This is true to our experience, and so it should not be surprising to find that when societies have ritualised growth stages in life, the rituals always involve pain.
Robert Bly, in his book ’Iron John’, tells of an aboriginal tribe that used to take all the boys, when they reached a certain age, to a special place where they would tell them the ancient stories of their forefathers and where they would point to a distant tree where their great forefather (an Adamic figure) used to sit and where he lost a tooth in a fight with some demonic creature. And while they strain to look at the tree, the adult males come by and knock out one tooth from each of the boys. And then the boys return home as men.
In our white Australian culture of course we have no ’coming of age’ ritual for boys or girls, though, as some of you know, I’m doing my best to establish one (for boys at least). I do everything I can to encourage young boys, as they reach the ages of 16 and 17 to start training for a fight. Some say "but what if I get hurt?" I say, "If you don’t get hurt, you didn’t fight."
Why am I so keen for these guys to fight? Because I know how much my first fight did for me.
There’s nothing quite like it - climbing into that square ring, where all the normal rules of society, that aim to restrain us from violent involvement with each other, are (virtually) ignored. The women folk and children are pushed back at a distance. You stand in the middle of the ring, under the spotlights, in your underwear. You stare across that short and painful space at your equally ill-clad opponent, knowing that you have only your arms and your legs to defend yourself with. And the bell rings and your heart pounds and fist hits face and everything becomes a blur. But when the final bell goes, and you make your final walk back to your corner, to be greeted by the embrace of your brethren who are waiting to receive you, you know that you’re a man.
Real growth experiences always involve struggle and pain. And so Jacob, at the turning point of his life, wrestles all night with a dark and shadowy figure by the river Jabbok. He struggles. He fights. He is wounded. He is blessed. In the morning he limps away from this violent spiritual encounter as a new man with a new name, saying, "I have encountered God face to face, and have survived."
The great Rabbi Maimonides saw the whole episode as so impossible that he said it had to be a dream. Or if not a dream then perhaps Jacob wrestled with his brother Esau, or if not Esau could it perhaps have been that Jacob wrestled with himself? For how can a human wrestle with God?
The one thing that seems clear to me from the story is that, as far as Jacob was concerned, it had to be God that he was wrestling with. For it is this wrestle that makes sense of Jacob’s whole life.
Do you remember the story of Jacob’s life up to this point?
During Rebekah’s pregnancy with Jacob and his twin brother Esau - apparently it was so painful and problematic that she thought she was going to die. The children, we were told ’were wrestling within her’.