Wrestling with God - St. Bernard's

Wrestling with God

Oct 17, 2023

Apolonio Latar, S.T.L.

Jacob wrestling with the angel, found in Genesis 32, reveals to us the intimacy that is possible with God. There we read that Jacob was left alone in the dark and he met a “man” or an angel, and they wrestled until the break of dawn. Jacob was not making any progress; it seems as if whatever he did fell short of winning, of conquering the circumstance he was placed in, which was contrary to the life he always lived. He was a man who was always in control. He deceived and manipulated his brother and his father to gain the blessing and birthright, and it seemed like he achieved whatever he wanted to. But for probably the first time in his life, he was no longer in control of his life. He was unarmed, powerless before the Unknown he was wrestling with. He couldn’t win, couldn’t catch a break, and couldn’t go away to rest from the struggle that he was confronted with.

Yet, he continued to wrestle, to embrace that very struggle. Here we see how God uses his stubbornness, his determination to get what he wants, for His own plan. God uses anything, any opening He can find within us, so that He can enter, not only in our hearts, but into the whole world. The Unknown comes into the darkness of our lives to draw our very depths to Himself.

Then the Unknown struck Jacob’s hip socket at the sciatic muscle. At this moment, not only was Jacob powerless before the Unknown, not being able to manipulate or control the situation, but the wound caused him to cling more strongly to the Unknown. Maybe for the first time in his life, he had to cling to something outside of his own control. At this moment, he was vulnerable. And here we begin to see his intimacy with God. Intimacy is being vulnerable to the other, allowing oneself to be held by the other and not being afraid to cling on to the other. The wound that the Unknown created was to help Jacob stop from grasping. Yet, in this very vulnerability, there was a new intimacy created. Intimacy takes the form of not grasping the other. When God creates situations where we no longer are able to grasp at anything, it is only then that true love, true intimacy with Him can be possible. Jacob could no longer win against the Unknown, could no longer control him, but this created a more profound embrace that was not possible before. Intimacy is a dispossession that creates a more profound embrace.

After being wounded, Jacob persevered and insisted that he would not let go until he was blessed. The words he says, “I will not let you go until you bless me,” express a deep desire to be favored by God. Although it sounds like he was still trying to trick or manipulate, we find that deep in this desire was not to control or manipulate for its own sake, but to receive a gift from God. He always tried to grasp, but what allowed him to stop grasping, what would make him let go of the Unknown, was that he receive love. What actually allowed him to stop grasping is not the blessing itself. He finally let go, not because he received a blessing, but because of his obedience.

He was asked, “What is your name?” That is to say, “Will you surrender yourself to me? Will you allow me to have authority over you?” And with that question, Jacob surrendered his name, that is to say, his secret, his whole being, to God. We are called, especially in our darkest moments, to cling and surrender. It is within the darkest situations that intimacy is possible.

Jacob gave his name and he received a new name from the Unknown. Suffering allows a new name to be formed, that is to say, it can be a circumstance when the person emerges. Jacob became Israel, the Patriarch of the people of God, because of his faithfulness. When the people of Israel remember him, they do not simply think of someone who deceived, but someone who allowed himself to be taken by God, to let God work in him. God transformed this man from someone who went through any obstacles to receive what he wanted, to a man who did not find any obstacles, either in himself or his situation, to let God work in him. In the dark moments of our lives, what are we clinging to? What ideas of ourselves do we need to let go of? Where do we go to find the source of meaning?

Vulnerable to God, Jacob walked limping. It was this state that allowed him to reconcile with Esau. When one encounters God, when one is wounded by His tremendous love, it is difficult to look at another the same way. So it is especially for those who have fought for God, especially for a long time. Jacob no longer walked proudly, but became meek. From then on, he limped. His encounter with God was not simply a past event, but the intervention of God that formed him from within. His intimacy with God, his struggles with Him in the darkness, became a source of gentleness that allowed him to embrace others. The suffering never went away for him, but his suffering became a source of memory, of reliving the enduring love of God.

Apolonio Latar III, S.T.L., received his M.Ed. at Marymount University. He also studied Philosophy at Rutgers University and Sacred Theology at the Pontifical Lateran University in Rome. He is currently the Theology Department Chair at St. Paul VI Catholic High School. His interests include the theology of Joseph Ratzinger and Hans Urs von Balthasar, metaphysics, analytic philosophy, scripture, and fundamental theology.