In the middle of the night, Jacob got up. He was left alone, and he was crossing Jabbok River. Suddenly a man stood in front of him, and started to wrestle with him till daybreak. When the man saw that he could not overpower him, he hit Jacob´s hip bone so that his hip was wrenched as he wrestled with the man. Then the man said, ‘Let me go, for it is daybreak.’ But Jacob replied, ‘I will not let you go unless you bless me.’
The man asked him, ‘What is your name?’ ‘Jacob,’ he answered. Then the man said: From now on, your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with men and have always overcome.’ Jacob said, ‘Please tell me your name.’ But the man replied, ‘Why do you want to know my name?’ Then he blessed him there. So Jacob called the place Peniel, saying, ‘It is because I saw God face to face, and yet my life was spared.’ Genesis 32, 23 f
Faith in God is not a template that one puts on life and then tries to trace it religiously. Faith is always an encounter with the living God. God wants to meet us humans face to face, wants to bless us, wants to make us a new man. Jacob's nightly struggle is a good example of this:
1.Jacob did not choose the encounter with God. Suddenly and unexpectedly, God appears in the middle of the night. He appears as a stranger and fights with him, man against man. An uncanny situation. But Jacob does not flee, he accepts the challenge and fights. He fights for survival. He also fights for his family.
I know people who have gone through nightly battles with God. Nightly prayer battles wrestling with God. Nights of crying and suffering. Nights when God did not appear as the loving Father, but the sinister, the alien God. I think of the father whose son was killed in a motorcycle accident. My thoughts go to a mother, whose small child died from cancer.
To flee, or to continue to fight? To give up faith in a merciful God? Or fight on like Jacob until the sun rises again? Until God shows himself again as the bright light. Until Jesus Christ, the light of life, breaks through the darkness again.
2.As if the struggle wouldn´t be enough already, God adds an incurable pain. I know men and women who have great pain in their hip joint and are disabled. Our modern medicine can help with an artificial hip joint. But there is pain in the soul that cannot be operated away. There is pain that must be endured for life. For example, the death of a loved one. Or the pain of a failed marriage. Or the failure in one's own life. Then you ask yourself: why do I have to endure this pain? Why does God inflict this pain on me? Why didn't God spare me from it?
In the midst of pain, Jacob holds on to God. He does not let him go but wants to be blessed! Isn't that a paradox? He doesn't cry out, "God, I don't want to have anything to do with you anymore!" rather "I won't let go of you unless you've blessed me first!"
He doesn't want to stop fighting with God until he is blessed. And God fulfills that request. He blesses him and gives him a new name. Jacob, the deceiver, becomes Israel. This can be translated as "fighter for God." He has fought with God, wrestled with God. He confesses, "I have seen God face to face, and my soul has been saved."
Thus, the night battle becomes the beginning of a new life. Marked by a new name and thus a new mission. But also marked by the pain of memory. The battle with God is indelibly engraved like a brand in his life.
3.Two years ago a friend died of cancer. In the middle of her life, she began to fight against the disease. On her deathbed, she asked me to bury her. Together we then prepared this day of farewell. She had gone through faith struggles. But they turned into victories of faith. She told me, "I have found my way back to God. At my funeral, could you please tell this to everyone who comes." Many came, and I was able to say at the casket that she had found peace with God. I was allowed to say that Psalm 23 had also become her psalm of comfort. The pain of having to die so early had given way to the victory of faith.
"My soul has been saved!" Jacob can say. And then comes that wonderful phrase, "And the sun rose over him ...." Whoever is able to say: My soul has been saved, will not only realize a light which comes on, but will see the sun rising over his life! The light of God comes into life again and outshines all darkness. There it becomes bright in his thoughts; there the darkness gives way and leaves his heart. Even if pain remains.
Jesus Christ says (John's Gospel 8, 12): "‘I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life.’ He leads us into the light of life.
I wish for you that this wonderful Jesus-light makes your everyday life quite bright. Even though you may still be wrestling with God being unable to understand His guidance. Even if you are suffering from the pain that has been inflicted on you. I wish you to be blessed and to be able to say like Jacob: my soul has been saved. I wish that you may experience like Jacob: the sun rose over my life. Amen.