Processing God

Processing God

Who is God to you?

We know what the Scriptures tell us about God. We read that he is faithful to the faithless, gentle, loving, slow to anger, sacrificial, merciful and so much more.

But my relationship with God hasn’t been this simplistic. Reading the words, “I will never leave you or forsake you,” may bring about momentary peace of mind but at my core I believe he could leave me at any time.

I love the words of God. I love reading through the stories and seeing how God has historically met fellow humans. It gives me grace to know that life wasn’t simplistic for anyone, even the founders of faith, even the men after God’s own heart. One of my favorite stories is found in Genesis 32, where Jacob is on his way to reconcile with his brother Esau.

The last time Jacob had seen his brother he had been the deceiver, the taker, the manipulator, stealing from Esau what was rightfully his. Now here he was, about to face his brother again, and he was scared. He had his family with him, his livelihood, and he had no way of knowing whether any of them would make it out alive.

If Jacob was anything like me, he would have been envisioning a massacre. He would be near panicking, thinking that his loved ones may be slaughtered. He sent gifts ahead in hopes that his brother would be swayed to forgive but Jacob couldn’t sleep, the anxiety of the unknown and fear of the worst keeping him awake.

This is where we see him alone, wrestling with a man. He has a tenacity, even though he is already injured, to grip this man and demand a blessing for the day to come, saying, “I will not let you go until you bless me.” 

It is in this moment of fear and uncertainty that Jacob is given the name Israel. “Your name will no longer be Jacob but Israel,” the man says, “because you have struggled with God and with humans and have overcome.”

Amazing.

Jacob’s name is changed to Israel because he had persevered with God, he had striven with him, wrestled with him, fought with him and he prevailed.

Israel, “God prevails,” is the name given to the people of God. They are his chosen ones, the ones he walks with, sees, and longs for. They are also the ones who contend with him, the ones who wrestle with him, the ones who fight.

I used to believe that my need to wrestle with God came from a place of distrust and a lack of faith. I saw gentle acquiescence to his future plans as the epitome of godliness. My job was just to accept what came, no matter what it was, as God’s great purpose. So I kept my struggles with anger and fear internal, taking Scripture at face value and condemning myself for the balled up fists at my side.

There are so many feelings, actions and desires that cause shame but wrestling with God should never be one of those. In fact, facing the truth of our perceptions about God, who we believe he is or isn’t and questioning him is an act of faith. It is an act of love. It is an act of trust and courage.

This visual of Jacob on the ground, refusing to release God and demanding that he be blessed, is one of my favorite images in Scripture because it reminds me of myself. I find myself wrestling in the dirt with God often, demanding that he show himself to me, demanding that he stay with me, questioning his sanity and care.

Yet this fight isn’t about turning my back on God, it is about facing him, gripping him and refusing to let go. So now when I read the verse, “I will never leave you or forsake you,” I can acknowledge that I don’t believe it and at the same time, I can ask that he keep his promise.

I don’t imagine your faith is the same as mine. We are, after all, individuals with stories of our own in which God plays different characters over time. Faith in him is an ever-changing, ever-evolving journey that is intimately personal with hills, valleys and deep deserts. But I still hope in him because of how he met with Jacob in the dirt. How he allowed Jacob to man-handle him, to throw him, to grip him and demand of him peace.

In a world where religions require absolute acceptance, our God gives us space to question his character, his will, his goodness and his purpose. This is why my feet are still planted in faith because my God wants me to be fully exposed before him without shame.

So I will repeat the question, who is God to you?

Is he gentle or is he harsh? When you close your eyes and envision him, what do you see? Do you see him as three individual entities or is he a combination of all? What does he expect from you? What disappoints him? When you make a mistake, is he angry? Is he your comforter and ally or does he bring you pain? Is he distant or near depending on your behavior? Does he require sacrifice? Is he proud of you because of your choices?  

This God of yours is inviting you to wrestle and I encourage you to join him for there is peace to be found in the dirt.

Do you wrestle with God and his character? How has your story influenced your understanding of who God is?

Photo by Krishh on Unsplash

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9 Comments

  1. Jenilee Goodwin July 8, 2020

    I love how you wrote out this story. It’s always been a story I love, but in this overseas life, I’ve found it so moving… the picture of wrestling with God and deeply accepting his love, his presence. Thanks for writing this!

    1. Joy Smalley July 8, 2020

      Thank you, Jenilee!

  2. Joanna July 8, 2020

    I seriously needed this today. I have seven children and honestly all but one or two are extremely strong willed. Or they are overtly compliant but subvertly disrespectful. When we reentered last time we stayed with friends of ours they have two children both of which are teen and young adult. Also very compliant. Mine are all little except one teen. I’ve been walking about in what feels like David in sauls armor. For you never heard a raised voice and the mom does all the chore. I tried this for the past two months. Needless to say it did not work. Well that is definitely not me not my family. Here you see the image of our family.wrestling finding peace in the dirt. The world is wrangling for our children we must wrangle for them. If a masked man came into your home to steal your kids away you would fight but the masked man is really an inward struggle as they wrangle with the realities around them. Last night when my children went to sleep my morose son who’ve I’ve not wrestled with in discipline in a long while but I have the past two days seemed a more kinder happier soul than he has in a long time. I hate child discipline. I don’t want to wrestle with my children. But it does give us peace it gives them peace too. The reality that mom cares and there are boundaries. God gave me these kids and the tenacity of God to wrestle with their hearts. I know I know we wrestle not against flesh and blood but principalities and powers. But God literally wrestled Jacob. He didn’t soon forget it either because he walked about with a limp for the rest of his life. You don’t see God ignoring Jacob or in the corner praying while Jacob is insisting on a blessing. No he is wrestling and wrangling with him. If I love my kids enough to get in the dirt and have a showdown how much more does God. Thank you Lord help us to stand our ground in your strength. Sorry for the long post. I honestly feel so condemned but I have to remember I was and am walking in the image of God when I am willing to tango for the things worth tangoing over. Lol

    1. Joy Smalley July 8, 2020

      Hi Joanna. I love the correlation you made to parenting and I would agree. Just because there is conflict between parent/child doesn’t mean that there isn’t also love and peace and growth for all. I also love that you pointed out that he walked with a limp for the rest of his life. There was a reminder of the struggle and the faithfulness that he carried with him where ever he went. Blessings to you, Joanna.

  3. Sarah Hilkemann July 8, 2020

    Thank you for sharing this, Joy! I so appreciate your vulnerability. I’m not sure I learned to wrestle with God until going overseas. To even question Him, to doubt Him, felt like too much. But in the wrestling, in the seasons where it felt like a crisis of relationship (rather than a crisis of faith), He hasn’t let go of me. I would rather wrestle with Him than turn my back on Him. It’s still a process, and I’m learning to be more okay with things being a journey rather than having everything settled and figured out. 🙂

    1. Joy Smalley July 8, 2020

      Sarah, I love that you said a crisis of relationship over a crisis of faith. I think I fall into that category much of the time too. Blessings to you, my friend.

      1. Sarah Hilkemann July 8, 2020

        I got that phrase from my counselor last year. It has helped frame a lot for me. 🙂

  4. R July 9, 2020

    Thank you so much, Joy, for this post. It hits just where I need it today. I’m in a place of uncertainty. Things feel messy and fuzzy. Something has to happen, but I don’t know what, and just can’t predict the outcome. I don’t know what He is saying… and yet, I suspect that is where He wants me, wrestling with Him as I question where He is, who He is, and why He has let things happen. This story about Jacob had been on my mind a couple weeks ago. I hadn’t thought about the sheer terror he was living in at that moment, how completely vulnerable he felt then, and how everything was hanging on whether God turned up or not.
    Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts, and for being so open and real in your writing.

    1. Joy Smalley July 9, 2020

      Hi R, it’s so frustrating, in my experience, when God is silent and we can’t hear his voice. It is never a fun place to be, it’s quite awful. I pray that as you wrestle God will become more clear and his words more coherent in this time of uncertainty. Blessings to you, friend.

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