Jacob was renamed Israel, meaning wrestled with God. That particular passage has always left me wondering. I suppose I was confused by the point of the story. What was the lesson we were to take away from those events? I don’t think that I understood a significant aspect of it until I became a therapist. I began to see so many people come into my office and begin to feel such guilt over their fears, anger, and pain. They would lament that they did not rely upon God more. They were very afraid or ridden with shame at the briefest mention of being disappointed or angry with God. The maelstrom of emotions they experienced were intensified and made so much heavier by adding deep guilt, shame, and fear for having such emotions.
Ultimately, at the heart of all of those struggles is a fear that God will turn from them. Most aren’t conscious that this is at the root, but behind guilt and shame is always a fear of punishment and abandonment. But when did our faith become so sterile? When did it become a mandate to put on a false self before meeting God? The Old Testament characters bargained, begged, and argued with God on a regular basis. The psalms are filled with cries of despair, anger at the injustice of God, and even questions of God’s competence. These people dared to wrestle with God. Why is it that we think God so fragile that he cannot withstand our wrestling? Is he that petty that he cannot understand the cries and anguish of a wounded child? Is his pride that easily wounded? Does he depend on us for his self-esteem? I think we underestimate God because of the imperfect images of love we receive on this earth.
C.S. Lewis settled on the title ‘Till We Have Faces’ for one of his novels. It was based upon a quote from a Greek author, “How can the gods meet us face to face till we have faces?” He spoke about the need for each of us to be “real” in our relationship with God, “that is, it must be speaking with its own voice (not one of its borrowed voices), expressing its actual desires (not what it imagines that it desires), being for good or ill itself, not any mask, veil, or persona.”
It is said that Jacob wrestled with God and man, and won! Our prayers become dull, our lives passive, and our God small when we fail to bring our whole selves into the relationship and wrestle with life. We were not designed to passively accept our circumstances. God wants to meet us face to face and his love is strong enough to embrace our anger, pain, bitterness, and fear. He can only hold what we give Him. If we give him half a heart, then that is all that can be embraced. Let Him embrace all of you.