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Thursday, August 10, 2017

God Who Touches

I’m getting a lot of mileage out of Genesis 32:24-32 this week:

“So Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him till daybreak. When the man saw that he could not overpower him, he touched the socket of Jacob’s hip so that his hip was wrenched as he wrestled with the man. Then the man said, ‘Let me go, for it is daybreak.’

But Jacob replied, ‘I will not let you go unless you bless me.’

The man asked him, ‘What is your name?’

‘Jacob,’ he answered.

Then the man said, ‘Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with humans and have overcome.’

 Jacob said, ‘Please tell me your name.”’

But he replied, ‘Why do you ask my name?’ Then he blessed him there.

So Jacob called the place Peniel (which means face of God) saying, ‘It is because I saw God face to face, and yet my life was spared.’

The sun rose above him as he passed Peniel, and he was limping because of his hip” (NIV).

Jacob wrestles with God—Undoubtedly, one of the weirdest passages of Scripture… ever…  And yet it is packed with all kinds of important discussion material: Calling, Blessing, Free Agency, Naming, Struggle, Injury, and Scars.

There may not be a better passage that deals with identity, and that’s saying something, because so much of Scripture is about living into who we are as the people of God.  If you know anything at all about Jacob’s story, you also know that he had a hard time with this from the very moment he was born, clinging to his twin brother’s foot! 

For his entire life, Jacob has wanted to be someone he is not, and I think it’s interesting that God connects this struggle to a new identity.  We’ll get to that, but let’s also think for a moment about how very physical this struggle is.  It’s tempting to ‘over spiritualize’ in such a way that we compartmentalize and fail to interact with God holistically.  That’s part of why I’ve taken so much time to work through this series on God and our senses.  It would be so much easier to back God into a corner where nothing ‘real’ ever happens… where we only have to think good spiritual thoughts a couple of times per week in order to be disciples… where God stays in God’s place, and that certainly isn’t in our actual space. 

But we have a God who touches…

In Jacob’s narrative, it’s not so gently, either!  Sure, in the end Jacob wins.  God doesn’t force us to do anything (see: free will), and Jacob seems to have chosen this wrestling match, even refusing to let go!  Yet he doesn’t walk away unscathed.  In fact, he walks away limping.  There is pain involved.   

I recently got into something of a debate (although that wasn’t my intent) about whether or not our feelings matter.  I would say yes.  I would say our feelings are often an extension of our experience, and it is difficult to argue that something is untrue if there is a firsthand account.  I wasn’t trying to imply that feelings are more important than facts, but I was trying to make it clear that truth can be found in both and that feelings hold more weight than data, like it or not.  I am not a fan of the phrase, “perception is reality,” because perception can certainly be skewed, and I guess I have had enough encounters with people who spin lies to be wary of allowing just any perceived story to stand, but there is no doubt that perception is influential and that misperception must be gently and lovingly corrected in order to avoid disaster. 

To claim that our feelings (physical, emotional, mental, social) have no place in relationship to theology and spirituality is to deny our humanity.  If humanity wasn’t on God’s radar, I’m not sure why Jesus was fully human. 

In this passage about Jacob, God touches him.  God wrenches him.  God breaks him.  It hurts!  That seems awful.

There’s a part of me that wants to say, “Well, at least God let him win,” but there’s another part of me that finds it astounding that, after this battle that lasts all night long, God asks Jacob to let go; and when he doesn’t, God calls Jacob an overcomer and blesses him with a new name that he might actually be able to live into. 

Hebrew parents were serious about naming their kids.  Jacob literally means, “he grasps the heel,” and that’s a Hebrew idiom for, “he deceives.”  This is exactly who Jacob has been for his entire life up to this point, but God renames Jacob after this very long and exhausting night that leaves him broken and limping (and I have to imagine feeling physically and emotionally spent).  God renames him Israel, which means, “He struggles with God,” and then God chooses Israel to be God’s very own people.

How crazy is that?

Well, maybe not that crazy.  Don’t we tend to be closest to the people who touch us deeply?  Another phrase for which I have no affinity is, “We hurt the ones we love the most” (double meaning… can’t even figure out how to make a comma help it read one way or the other), but I can’t say there isn’t some truth to it.  Significant relationships can cause pain, even accidentally, because we are always touching.

God has used struggling people from the beginning.  Don’t let go.  Be blessed.


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