This weekend at Christ Community’s Word and Sacrament worship gathering I am preaching on Jacob’s wrestling with God in Genesis 32 (as well as Matthew’s account of Jesus feeding the five thousand).
This quote seemed particularly appropriate, considering the strange story of Jacob experiencing Yahweh blessing him and dislocating his hip. It would seem the hurting and the healing go together most times.
"Our healing lies in obedient acceptance of God’s will; but this is no bland resignation. It is a change wrought by anguish, darkness, and stripping. If we believe we can experience our healing without deepening our hurt, we have understood nothing of the roots of our faith. Jesus’ obedience in the circumstances of his earthly life, in temptation and fear, ‘with loud cries and tears’ (Heb 5:7), is what opens the long-closed door between God and our hearts, and, although that door is now decisively open, all must still pass through it to make the reconciliation their own."
– Rowan Williams, The Wound of Knowledge, 20-21.
I think I see in his passage where Jacobs overcomes God (but walks away limping) a foreshadowing of the cross, in that here we see a God who overcomes by being overcome, who wins by losing, who conquers by weakness. It seems to me this has always been the central scandal of the gospel, that Jesus didn’t choose the way of violence and coercion, but chose the path of shame and weakness, patiently enduring evil in order to exhaust it of its power.
Christian spirituality, then, is always cruciform. Despite the sentimentality of much of what is called "spirituality" today, God does not transform us by being our buddy and just telling us we’re not so bad after all. He transforms us by killing us and then raising us up as new creatures. We walk forward in Christian practice by going back to the cross again and again. We live by dying, we win by losing, just like our Lord.