October 16, 2007

want to wrestle with an angel?

Would you like the chance to wrestle with an angel? Do you want to take hold of God and give God a good shaking? Maybe just to demand answers to important questions? Why is life so hard? Or to ask God, where have you been? Why is there so much suffering and injustice in the world? Or maybe you wonder if there is anything to hold on to in a society where anything goes?

It may be that God is always present, but because our culture and especially our institutions construct walls between us and God, God appears remote and insensitive, or even totally absent. Men and women who have the courage to reject rigid and self-righteous attitudes, who are troubled by the hypocrisy of the religious and institutional authorities, who even go so far as to challenge God for an apparent insensitivity to suffering, have bridged that gap. Your cynicism is important because at some level it knows you are up against that wall, that too many roadblocks have been thrown in your path.

Moses with Ten Commandments

For instance, how often is the Bible used to point the finger? We don’t have to read the Bible as a long list of “shoulds”. Throughout her history Israel wrestled with her understanding of faith: between a strict interpretation of the law or the commandment to found a nation upon compassion for all members of society: starting with the poor, the strangers, the outcasts. Time and again they forgot that God had chosen them to be a light to the nations and instead chose to imitate the powerful nations which exploit the weak and enslave their neighbors. In doing so, they constructed the roadblock, the wall that obstructs hope.

In Genesis 32:22-31 Jacob is the paradigm for Israel’s struggle. He was self-centered and manipulative. Incredibly though, the covenant is bestowed upon him and not his older brother Esau who followed all the rules. Jacob on other hand bucked the status quo, he refused to allow it to crush his spirit. Being the younger son, he would have been denied any inheritance and would have to go out and work like a slave for years before he would be allowed to marry and start a life for himself. Jacob found ways to get what he wanted, but this created more strife in his life which eventually threatened to destroy everything he had gained.

For sure, Jacob was right to want a better life for himself and to challenge a system, which rewarded a few while depriving others the basic necessities to live a good life. But it was only after he wrestled with God instead of wrestling with his family, or the social institutions of his time, that he could recognize and receive a much larger inheritance. Instead of making his brother or his employer his rival, he finally fought it out face to face with God. In those moments we learn that God has no part in those roadblocks which deprive us of hope. Out of the Old Testament emerges a vision of a God who gives without reserve, who has prepared a banquet for us here on earth full of the limitless bounty of creation.

2 Timothy 3:14-4:5 Paul’s Charge to Timothy

Paul's Charge to Timothy Paul’s operating under the assumption that we were all brought up knowing our Bibles. lol. That was the old days, before TV, before the internet. Why would anyone read the Bible now? Unless, you’re “born again”, hardly anyone else bothers with it.

Sadly, when the Bible is used by to condemn people who don’t conform to a particular interpretation of the law, it becomes a tool of violence. It gives the Bible a bad rap.

In times of personal crisis, the Bible can provide a depth of experience unmatched by the best self-help books. Not because it gives precise answers, but because it is a living word, formed out of centuries of struggle and self-reflection. It was written by people who grappled with profound disillusionment, who were forced to question all that they understood about God and their role as the chosen people. Their return to faithfulness in the times of apparent failure and loss allowed them to discover and rediscover that God is far more generous and compassionate than they could have imagined. That no matter how many times they went astray, God was always present.

When we come into relationship with God in the same way that the Israelites did, we are given a profound message of hope with the power to sustain us in life’s most difficult circumstances.

Luke 18:1-8 The Parable of the Widow and the Unjust Judge

The Widow and the Unjust Judge

God has often been accused of being too remote to care about human suffering. God’s unwillingness to prevent evil, and allowing the greedy and the wicked to rule the earth, seems incredibly unjust.

Unjust JudgeBut as long as we expect God to take sides, we will be disappointed. Not because God doesn’t care, precisely the opposite. God has no part in human forms of justice, which insist that someone must always pay the price. More times than not, those who are made to pay are the poor, minorities, the weak and the downtrodden.

To be sure, the God of Israel is a God of Justice. When God rescued the Jews from slavery in Egypt, God commanded them to care for the widow, the orphan and the stranger. God warned them, if you do not do this, I will hear their cries.

God is most present in moments when all understanding fails us. When we feel abandoned by the world around us, or when we experience profound loss. This is good news for those of us who experience traditional or self-righteous versions of God as harsh and alienating. It is precisely in that moment that we should take our case before the judge.


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