O give thanks unto the Lord for He is good, His mercy endures forever (1 Chr 16:34). Beautiful Savior Lutheran Church - Winnipeg, MB
Wrestling with God: The Christian Life
"Wrestling with God: The Christian Life"
October 17, 2010
Fellow baptized saints, what does the Christian life look like? Does it look like a fairy tale, with Christians going about happily ever after - praising God with a smile on their faces and happiness in their hearts every day, helping their neighbor without question? Or is the Christian life truly concerned with reality? Does it square off and wrestle with the real issues that are faced in this life? Does it acknowledge the full spectrum of life and engage and struggle with it? Sometimes we may want life to be a fairy tale, but this is not what we find in the Scriptures. Instead, we hear about reality, people struggling in their lives - and a God who struggles with them - moving them from uncertainty to certainty. A God who understands that uncertainty is the root of unhappiness. As Martin Luther once asked, "What could be worse than uncertainty?" It is the cause of fear, it the robber of hope, it is the enemy of truth, faith and love. We may strive to be happy, but the real battle is against uncertainty. The Christian life with its moments of happiness and sorrow is in the middle of that battle. So perhaps the real question we should be asking is: How does God use the trials and struggles of life to bring certainty to His children?
Can you remember when you were young and you got to play wrestle with your father? "Horsing around" as mom would call it - There was giggling and grunting, trickery and teasing - and all of it was done in an environment of safety. No matter how rowdy the struggle became, your father was always in control. You were certain that although you were wrestling - which appeared to be conflict - your father was simultaneously protecting and watching out for you. He couldn't prevent all harm from befalling you, and I'm sure there are many scars in the room to show that, but he would never intentionally harm you. He enjoyed letting you release your energy, frustration or whatever else, in a safe, controlled environment.
In our Old Testament reading, we hear the account of Jacob. Jacob faces a real problem and he is crippled with uncertainty. For years he has been running from his brother Esau, from whom he stole his inheritance, and now his brother has finally caught up with him. Now, Jacob fears for his life and for the lives of his family, and in the verses just before our reading, he fell to his knees in prayer saying, "O Lord, please deliver me from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Esau, for I fear him, that he may come and attack me, the mothers with the children. But you said, 'I will surely do you good, and make your offspring as the sands of the sea, which cannot be numbered for multitude." Even in his uncertainty, Jacob calls upon the Lord, and reminds Him of His promises. Then he sends his family ahead and waits for the morning to meet his brother.
That night, alone and uncertain, Jacob wrestles with God. All night long, until daybreak, Jacob struggles, fights, resists and contends with "a man" who is able to touch his hip socket. God has engaged his child in a playful bout of wrestling, though it may not seem playful to Jacob. And although it may feel like conflict, God is in control, simultaneously protecting Jacob, and giving him a safe, controlled environment to release his frustration.
It does not always feel like God is on your side. Especially when he wrestles with you or disciplines you. You may be angry with God, or turn your back from Him. You may want nothing to do with Him sometimes. This is much like when you were a child, and your parents disciplined you. It did not always feel like they were on your side. The Scriptures puts it this way, "The Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives. It is for discipline that you have had to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but He disciplines us for our good, that we may share His holiness. For the moment, all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it."
Beloved sons of the Father, without discipline we become smug, we lose respect for our Father and become convinced that we know best. To put this in wrestling terms, as children, we accept the control of our father and understand that it is safer when he is in control. But as we get older we look forward to overcoming our adversary - showing our father that we are stronger than him - that he is older and inferior - we become entitled as though we should be the one in control. As adults we think we are full grown, with nothing left to learn from our Father in heaven. For this reason Christ says, "Truly I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it."
So wrestle with God, take Him on like Jacob for look at the result of his struggle. Jacob leaves with certainty. He limps away with an injured hip, but his fear is gone. Jacob is ready to meet his brother Esau. And when he does, his brother does not attack him, but runs to meet him, falls into his neck in an embrace and kisses him as they weep with joy together. God blesses Jacob through his suffering. He even gives him a new name - Israel - which means 'he wrestles with God'. Through trial, God moves Jacob to hold fast His heavenly promises all the more. Jacob is strengthened and more certain than ever before.
God does the same thing in your life. As we heard, "For the moment, all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it." You may not be able to see it, but blessing is connected to your trials. The muscle of your faith is strengthened through the difficult exercise it endures. God wrestles with you, and moves you from uncertainty to certainty. He trains you to grab hold of His promises more clearly and certainly. And he knows your limits, as St. Paul writes, "God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your strength, but with the temptation will also make a way of escape, so that you may be able to bear it."
God has blessed and strengthened Jacob through suffering. He blesses and strengthens us through suffering. But who can say how many others are benefited through our trials? Who can number the countless witnesses that are influenced by such hope and strength? They are like the sands of the sea. God most certainly uses suffering to bless and strengthen those around us.
Look at Christ. Look at the one with whom you have been wrestling, hanging alone on the cross. He is the punching bag of the world. During his own day, and still today. He is the target of the most abuse, hatred and scorn in the history of the world. His name is the one we use to curse. And He wouldn't have it any other way. For through His suffering for all of us, He has brought certainty and meaning to your suffering. He has made your struggles and your pain worth something, for He promises a great eternal reward. All the abuse we have heaped on Him is what He came here to get. Christ chose to be the punching bag so your suffering would not be in vain. And by His precious blood, which trickled down the rugged wood of the cross, He forgives you for all of your doubt, all of your anger and every time you have turned away from Him because you thought you knew better. Christ is the certainty that God is faithful. Christ is the certainty that you are being strengthened through suffering. Christ is the certainty that you will have eternal peace and happiness with Him in heaven.
You are forgiven - and yet the wrestling match continues. Just like Jacob, through prayer, the Word, and struggle - God continues to move you from uncertainty to certainty. As C.S. Lewis wrote - "God takes Christians to heaven kicking and screaming." And so we pray, Strengthen us O Lord, through Your Word and Sacrament. May You always keep us in the ring. In Jesus name, Amen.
Rev. Cameron Schnarr