I dug this up and I can’t shake it; it haunts me. The Bible tends to do that.
[Jacob] arose and took his two wives, his two female servants, and his eleven children, and crossed the ford of the Jabbok. He took them and sent them across the stream, and everything else that he had. And Jacob was left alone. And a man wrestled with him until the breaking of the day. When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he touched his hip socket, and Jacob’s hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him. Then he said, “Let me go, for the day has broken.” But Jacob said, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” And he said to him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Jacob.” Then he said, “Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with men, and have prevailed.” 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. So Jacob called the name of the place Peniel, saying, “For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life has been delivered.” (Genesis 32:22-30)
I envy Jacob. How often do we get to wrestle with God? Maybe I’m wrong and it’s not the glamorous ordeal I think it is. Maybe I’m wrong for a different reason: wrestling with our Creator is something we all do on a regular basis, and we don’t want to admit it because to do so is to admit defeat. For who can contend against God and win (Jacob did, yes, but his victory disturbed him nevertheless; verse 30)? I think many of us would rather keep God distant because it’s easier to contend with “life and all its struggles” than a personal God who cares.
Jacob shows that God can be contended with, but God shows us (through Jacob) that he wants to be involved in our lives. He wants to be face to face with us, even if we can only handle it when we’re in shadows.
Jesus came in the shadows too, disguising himself as a man, to redeem us before we run away in terror from all that God is. It’s easier for our fragile souls to interact with God’s shadow than to see him as he is.
He came into the shadows to redeem us with his shadows to ultimately deliver us from our shadows.
Bluntly, we don’t want God. Even the shadows he casts on our lives irritate us because they remind us of who we aren’t. When I needed God most, I prayed for his help, but that was because I had God in a box from which I expected him to perform a magic trick that would take my problem away. I didn’t realize the solution was himself, not a program or system. It wasn’t until I wrestled in the shadows that I gave in to what he offers.
He tells parables, he sends messengers, speaks through donkeys, and unveils visions. He stirs desires when we’re watching a movie or reading a book. He breaks our hearts. He leads us through prosperity and poverty. He introduces us to love, death, and everything in between. Through these “shadows” he wrestles with our stubbornness until we’re worn enough to listen to why he loves us and why he wants us to have life. He doesn’t care about the walls we build to keep him out. He doesn’t care about the rules we write to keep him in line or the boxes we tape him in. He cares about us, and no wall, rule or box can hold him back from spilling his heart to us.
The only thing that matters is if we want to listen. He gives us the chance to reject him, of course, but it killed him to do so.