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.”
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?
Join Denise, the Velvet Ashes Executive Director, and Sarah, the Program Coordinator, for our Facebook Live Summer series during the month of July! Each Thursday, we will chat with guests about topics like singleness, marriage on the field, and dealing with medical issues. Be part of the conversation by watching live and commenting with your questions and thoughts!
Our first Facebook Live topic will be Talking with Your TCKs about Racial Diversity. We’ll go live on the Velvet Ashes Facebook page on Thursday, July 9th, at 9 AM ET. If you can’t join live, make sure you catch the recording later on our page, or hop on for another live as we go through this series. Watch social media and our blog posts for each week’s topic.