I was picking at a leaf with my eyes open, thinking about the dirt on my shoes. Because that’s what I do when I’m sitting in a prayer circle in my backyard.
I was also thinking about marriage. Because that’s what I do when I’m hosting a wedding shower for one of my best friends.
Jordan Scheuble, a dude I’ve only ever grown to admire and respect, is getting married to the woman of his dreams in 30plus days, and as we his closest friends sat around him and Porshla and prayed last night, my mind repeatedly thought about the age-old reminder from my pastors in the pulpit: “marriage reflects the relationship between Christ and the Church.”
But instead of the myriad of Pauline images of marriage that have become increasingly worn the more I attend weddings, my mind got caught on a picture that better fits in the sports section of a high school year book.
My mind went to the beginning. The very beginning.
My mind went to the first instance that God provides a named identity for his people.
My mind pictured Jacob wrestling with God, and God stepping back and saying, “Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God.”
And all I could think about was how profound I find it, that before he ever began the whole life-dance thing with his bride, God looked at the representative of his chosen people and said, “It is with you, whom I have chosen to struggle.”
God essentially says, “Jacob, I’m choosing to walk forever with your people. And the relational blueprint I’m designing is one that includes anger and strife and jealousy and misunderstanding and quarrels and despair and rebellion and disorder and exile.”
“I’m choosing to found my marriage to you in a wrestling match.”
What type of God tells us to follow his lead in marriage, and then leads the way by putting on spandex, slapping the mat and yelling, “Let’s Go!”?
What God elects to struggle with the people who are supposed to proclaim how grand he is to the world, and convince others to follow him as well?
I think it’s the type of God that says, “ok, you wanna go? Fine. Watch how long I can last. Watch how angry you can get with me, how horribly wrong you can get me, how rebellious you can become, how grotesque you can be in murdering the people I send to guide you, and how steadfast my love will yet be, how sufficient my grace will remain, how strong I can be in the midst of your weakness. Because there is nothing so disgusting, so ugly, so horrible you’ll do that I won’t remain so faithfully patient with you.”
“You think you’re fighting against me. I know I’m fighting for you.”
Because the full story is:
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, “Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with humans and have overcome.”
Jacob said, “Please tell me your name.”
But he replied, “Why do you ask 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.”
See, I don’t think God gave Jacob the name “Israel” because Jacob proved to be this great, strong man who remained capable of surviving great strife. I really don’t think the name Israel is the blessing.
I think it’s the opposite.
I think it’s an admonishment.
I think it’s God’s way of saying, “Jacob, your frickin stubborn. And your people are going to be that way as well.”
And then God blesses Jacob. And my guess is he says “but that’s ok. Because I’m with you, and I’m for you, and I’m going to stay that way until the end of time.
The blessing to Jacob is God himself.
It’s the cross.
It’s forgiveness to Jacob and to us even when we know not what we do.
The name Israel is God’s way of saying, “My bride! You’re imperfect. Don’t you forget it. But don’t you forget that my love is greater, more patient, and more grace-filled than you’ll understand.”
God is much too busy loving us to have time to fight against us. I’m certain of that.
And I’m more thankful than ever that God paves the road ahead with all the struggle we’ll experience with him in mind.
Because for all the f-words I yell at the God with whom I’m angry, he still straps on the spandex, slaps the mat, and says,
“Ok, John. Let’s go. Let’s dance. But trust my lead. I’m going to pull you along to a much more beautiful place.”