Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Wrestling with God

I’ve always wanted to die like Tristan Ludlow in Legends of the Fall. At the end, when he is an old man, a grizzly bear (symbolic of his inner turmoil, which was significant throughout the film) attacks him in the woods. The narrator says elsewhere in the film that “every warrior hopes a good death will find him,” and at this moment at the end, the narrator concludes, “It was a good death.”

Nothing chills me more than to have such a “good death.”

I may be speaking for myself here, but I can’t budge from the temptation towards wildness because it's a part of me. Perhaps God has placed such a wildness in me, or perhaps I am inclined towards such dispositions. Either way, this wildness can be used for good or for ill. When our wildness takes the place of holiness, similar to how Tristan allowed wildness to take control in Legends of the Fall, then renovation needs to be done. I believe that God is wild himself, and that he matches our rebellious wildness with his own holy wildness. 

“Dress for action like a man; I will question you, and you make it known to me.” (Job 38:3)

“Jacob was left alone. And a man wrestled with him until the breaking of the day. When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he touched his hip socket, and Jacob's hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him.” (Gen. 32:24-25)

Did God quietly come to Job or Jacob requesting a quiet, civil chat over tea? Did he mind their feelings? 

God's not afraid to offend us:

“Go, and say to this people:
‘Keep on hearing, but do not understand;
keep on seeing, but do not perceive.’ 
Make the heart of this people dull,
    and their ears heavy,
    and blind their eyes;
lest they see with their eyes,
    and hear with their ears,
and understand with their hearts,
    and turn and be healed.” (Isa. 6:9-10)

“And Jesus entered the temple and drove out all who sold and bought in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons.” (Matt. 21:12)

“O faithless and twisted generation, how long am I to be with you and bear with you?” (Luke 9:41)

And how did people respond to Jesus’ offensiveness?

“When they heard these things, all in the synagogue were filled with wrath. And they rose up and drove him out of the town and brought him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they could throw him down the cliff.” (Luke 4:28-29)

What about us? Will we let God’s offensiveness drive us to despise him? 

Are we prepared to spiritually wrestle with God?

The important thing about God’s offensiveness is that it never offends our identity; God only offends us for our benefit. He rightly targets those aspects of ourselves that is against his will and provokes them, dislodges them so that they'll rise to the surface. That way, we may hopefully see our faults and let God renovate us. 

Throughout wrestling with the things in ourselves that go against God’s will, we may feel like God is our enemy. I can imagine that Jacob’a confusion over his mysterious adversary was soon trumped by irritation after the wrestling match continued throughout the night, especially when his hip popped out of joint. And dont you think the moneychangers were offended by the toppling of their tables?  

We all have the choice to either reflect God's offensive ways, or bury it so it can incubate bitterness towards him. Did some of the moneychangers rethink their misguided establishment in the temple? We don’t know, but it’s possible. Did Jacob complain and hold a grudge against God because he hurt his hip? I doubt it (In fact, Jacob got blessed by God because of it; Gen. 32:29b). Did Job continue to pridefully assert his righteousness before God? Certainly not (see Job 42:2-3).

When we accept that God loves us and provokes the thorns in us only to remove them, we can begin to accept God’s renovation, which ultimately comes from thwarting and wrestling. It requires effort. God is not a comfortable little hobby, but a wild God who thwarts all selfish desires within us--and thwarting is not pleasant. God’s wildness should never fill us with fear because it will always be exactly what we need and it will come precisely when it's needed. No matter how uncomfortable it is to spiritually wrestle with God, it’s a reality in this world of sin. It's time to surrender and let God get his hands dirty in his ever-present chore of making us holy.

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