Saturday, September 3, 2005

Genesis 32

I keep thinking there's something deep to this story of Jacob wrestling with God that I'm missing. The story is as follows (somewhat modified) in the New Living Translation:

...Jacob [was] all along in the camp, and a man came and wrestled with him until dawn. When the man saw that he couldn't win the match, he struck Jacob's hip and knocked it out of joint at the socket. then the man said, "Let me go, for it is dawn." But Jacob panted, "I will not let you go unless you bless me."
"What is your name?" the man asked.
He replied, "Jacob."
"Your name will no longer be Jacob," the man told him. "It is now Israel, because you have struggled with both God and men and have won."
"What is your name?" Jacob asked him.
"Why do you ask?" the man replied. Then he blessed Jacob there.
Jacob named the place Peniel--"face of God"-- for he said, "I have seen God face to face, yet my life has been spared."

I'm fascinated by his account. Name changes are always significant in the Bible, from Abraham to Peter. They represent a change in one's life. Jacob becomes Israel, moving from being "a deceiver" to "one who struggles with God." What is most interesting to me is that God (or the angel, or pre-incarnate Jesus, or whatever) seems kind of impressed with Jacob's struggling. My professor in the Judaic Studies classes I'm taking would say that this is a very Hebrew scene. The Hebrew mindset is one of argument and debate, even with the Almighty. Moses bargains with God, Jacob wrestles with Him, several of the Psalms are quite severe with Him.

In the Book of Job, the main character is rewarded, in a kind of roundabout way, for daring to ask tough questions of God. God gets right in Job's grill with tough questions of His own, and Job eventually repents, but he's not the one in danger of punishment. The three friends, with their easy moral platitudes and cliches are the ones in need of intercession by Job.

This bravery about difficult moral problems and philosophical questions is one of my favorite things about the Bible. Religious churchy people may think there are simple answers to life's questions, but the Bible sure doesn't. God rarely gives what we would consider satisfactory answers. In fact, He usually just answers questions with more questions. In the immortal words of Stephanie Tanner, how rude.

Jesus picks up this rudeness in the New Testament. He almost never answers a question directly. It can be extremely annoying if a straight answer is what you want, but maybe answers aren't really what we need. Don't mistake me, I think the Bible has all the answers we need, but certainly not all the answers we want.

Maybe we don't need answers, maybe we need to ask the right questions. Or maybe we wouldn't understand the answers if we heard them. Maybe the answer is the one Jesus gives Peter when ol' Pete asks what will happen to John. "What do you care? Just follow Me." (That's very roughly paraphrased.)

I've been a Christian since I was 7, and I'm sure of less now than I ever have been. But I'm more sure than ever that whatever the answers ( or questions) are, Jesus knows. Jesus is.

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