“Are you struggling in your faith?” Ever been asked that one? If, like me, your inner dialogue to that question always go something like, “Of course I am. I always am, but I feel like I should say that I’m not,” then I may have good news for you.
You are supposed to struggle in your faith. It’s abnormal to not struggle. It may not actually be faith at all until you struggle.
I’ve come to embrace my doubts, confusion and uncertainty as less of a weakness and more of a needed reality. Where do I get such heresies, you ask? In the Bible. All over it. But specifically and fundamentally in this story found in Genesis 32:
That night Jacob got up and took his two wives, his two female servants and his eleven sons and crossed the ford of the Jabbok. After he had sent them across the stream, he sent over all his possessions. 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, saying, “It is because I saw God face to face, and yet my life was spared.”
Let’s break this down a bit. Names are foundational in the Bible. This is more true the further back we go, so in Genesis the names are almost everything. Jacob means “Deceiver.” His whole story to this point was built on lies and selfish power plays. Most of all, he had deceived himself into thinking it was all good. This event is his turning point away from becoming a deceiver and to becoming something new.
To get there he must wrestle with God. Been there? Here is the struggle of faith. It’s long and painful. We think we will win the match over time. We want to be blessed, but so often just end up wounded. Just like Jacob.
And then finally we receive the blessing. A new name! All of our God-struggles pay off in the end, right? Well, sort of. We do get a blessing. We do get a new name, but it is “Israel.” It means, “We struggle with God and men but overcome.” So our great gift after the struggle is more struggling. This seems like a backhanded blessing when you are in the wrestling match, but somehow on the other side of it, it’s perfect. Of course the struggle continues. The struggle is faith. The struggle is the point.
As we mature, like Jacob-turned-Israel, we can say what he says in the end. We rest in Peniel. We “have seen God face to face and lived to tell the story.” Our lives were spared. We are, as so many Christians love to say, saved by Jesus. This is salvation. This is heaven. To engage in struggle after struggle until we give in. Like Jacob, our hip never heals. It’s the earmark give-away of every person of faith. They walk with a limp … and praise God for it.
Photo (Flickr CC) by Fabio Venni