Saturday, August 14, 2010

The Wrestle with God

“Is he a man?” asked Lucy. 
“Aslan a man!” said Mr Beaver sternly. “Certainly not. I tell you he is King of the wood and the son of the great emperor-beyond-the-sea. Don’t you know who is the King of the Beasts? Aslan is a lion – the Lion, the great lion.”
“ooh!” said Susan, “I’d thought he was a man. Is he – quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion.”
“That you will, dearie, and no mistake” said Mrs Beaver; “if there’s anyone who can appear before Aslan without their knees knocking, they’re either braver than most or else just silly.”
“Then he isn’t safe?” said Lucy.
“Safe?” said Mr Beaver; “don’t you hear what Mrs Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”
From C.S. Lewis’ The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
One of the possible pitfalls of religious life is claiming to know too much too soon.  After going to Sunday school for several years we may think we have it all figured out.  We have all the doctrines down and some of us even have nice creeds to recite that lay it all out there.  We know exactly what God is like and we know exactly what he wants and how he wants up to behave.  God seems to be very simple and easy.

From my own encounters I have found the reality of God to be quite different.  God is challenging and sometimes terrifying.  The reality of God is often something that we don’t wish to accept and tend to shy away from.  It was like this with the Israelites when Moses came down from Sinai.  His face shined with the glory of God and the people were afraid of him. He even had to cover his face with a veil when he spoke to them (Exodus 34:29-35).  They could not bear to look upon the full glory of God and preferred to cover it up.  How often do we domesticate God in such a way?

The domesticated god is the god fashioned in man’s preferred image.  It has been said that if you find that your god happens to agree with you on everything than you may worship a god of your own making.  Encountering the true and living God entails opening yourself to the reality around you and exposing yourself to the dangers of new visions, thoughts and ideas.  It is very, very likely that you may have gotten something wrong and will find that God will lead you in a direction that makes you uncomfortable.  To come into the presence of God is to be transformed and transformation is as much a process of destruction as it is construction.

There are two occasions in scripture where an encounter with God is described as a wrestle.  In the longer account it is a full out wrestling match that lasts all night long.  The story in the Book of Mormon doesn’t actually describe a wrestling match but it was likely a very similar experience. 

In the Book of Mormon, Enos begins his story by saying “I will tell you of the wrestle which I had before God, before I received a remission of my sins.”  Enos was hunting wild beasts in the forests and as he was doing this the words of his father came to his mind and sunk deeply into his heart.  “My soul hungered; and I kneeled down before my Maker, and I cried unto him in mighty prayer and supplication for mine own soul.”  He prayed like this all day and well into the night (Enos 1:1-5)

In the Bible, Jacob wrestled with a man all night long.  It is a very strange story but also very interesting.  If you imagine this happening literally it is totally bizarre.  Prior to this, Jacob was preparing to meet his estranged brother, Esau, for the first time in years.  Then out of nowhere, we get this story: “And Jacob was left alone, and there wrestled a man with him until the breaking of the day.”  No explanation of who this guy is, he’s just there all of a sudden.  So dawn is coming and this man isn’t able to beat Jacob so he hits him in the hip and says “let me go”.  Then Jacob says “I will not let thee go, except thou bless me.”  What?  I don’t ever remember hearing that in a WWF match.  So this man blesses Jacob and even renames him Israel.  Afterword, Jacob calls the place Peniel saying “I have seen God face to face, and my life is preserved.”  Turns out, Jacob’s opponent was no ordinary man but God himself.  The name Peniel is Hebrew for the “face of God” (Genesis 32:24-32).

My guess is that the actual events that took place in these two stories were very similar but that the account in Genesis is much more symbolic.  Enos sought redemption and Jacob sought a blessing.  But for both the wrestling match with God was a quite a struggle though also quite rewarding.

We get the idea from the prophets that if you step into the ring with God you should prepare to be surprised and amazed.  When Moses first met Yahweh he was left limp and almost lifeless and said “Now, for this cause I know that man is nothing, which thing I never had supposed” (Moses 1:10).  This is what seeing God is like.  When you see God you see everything else differently.

The wrestle with God is a process of dramatic transformation and it is both an event and a process.  Centering more in God and Christ is a kind of rebirth.  “Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new” (2 Corinthians 5:17).  This is a gospel of change.  All things are become new.  As creatures of habit and custom, change can be uncomfortable but it is good.  Like Aslan, God can be overwhelming, surprising and fearsome, but God is good.

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