“What kind of God is this who wrestles with us, Dad?”
The voice on the phone was my daughter Sharon. A candidate for ordination, she had preached on the story of Jacob wrestling with God. Now, walking home from church in downtown Atlanta, she was calling me, in a state of holy agitation.
“A God who gets down and tussles with us—I don’t think we really want to know a God like that,” she mused. “It’s too messy and fraught.”
An hour ago I too had preached on that text—or attempted to. I knew what she was talking about.
“And what kind of ‘blessing’ is this that Jacob gets from the angel? What kind of a blessing is it when the guy who gives it to you also fights with you all night and puts your hip out of joint?”
I hadn’t really thought of that. “I don’t know,” I said.
“Well, I told them this morning—the blessing of God isn’t all sunlight and butterflies. I said, How often do we say, ‘We’re blessed—our children are all healthy.’ ‘I’m blessed—I found a new job.’ ‘We’re blessed—we had a wonderful vacation in Tuscany.’ A ‘blessing’ is just something good that happens. Nothing wrong with that. But that’s not what’s happening in this wild story.”
We talked on, about how this blessing comes not from serenity but from struggle. What to make of this wound, a mark that Jacob seems to carry for the rest of his life? “That image of Jacob at the end, Dad—‘the sun rose upon him as he passed Penuel, limping because of his hip’—that’s like the last scene of a movie!”
“He was such an asshole, Dad—Jacob. He spent his whole life grifting and chiseling people. He only ever cared about himself. But the next morning, he walks out in front of his wives and his children to meet Esau. Before, he’d hide behind people, use them as a shield. Finally he’s a stand-up guy. Here’s a man with a blessing and a limp to prove it, huh? God doesn’t bless us so that we can just hang out in some private nirvana, Dad. The blessing comes—I don’t really know, but it looks like the blessing comes when we’ve struggled and fought in our depths, when we’ve been wounded, and then we come out with compassion. We join the human race. We care about other people. Finally. I don’t know. What do you think, Dad?”
I said, “I think you’re right, honey.” I hung up and thought, Sharon, my dear, I know what you preached to your people this morning, but I am blessed—I have this remarkable daughter.