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Israel is our struggle with God and our way to the truth

Jacob was alone there. Then a man wrestled with him until the break of dawn. When the man saw he could not prevail over him, he struck Jacob’s hip at its socket, so that Jacob’s socket was dislocated as he wrestled with him. The man said, “Let me go, for it is daybreak.” Jacob said, “I will not let you go until you bless me.” “What is your name?” the man asked. He answered, “Jacob.” The man said, “You shall no longer be named Jacob, but Israel, because you have contended with divine and human and prevailed.”

Israel means both struggle with God and the straight way to God

Those who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. You did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you received a spirit of adoption, through which we cry, “Abba, Father!” The Spirit itself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if only we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him.

This past week, a discussion was presented to me in which my discussion partner related how in the Protestant tradition, God is presented as a contestant, another contestant. God in this view, he argued is much like Zeus, an angry god who one is advised well to placate. In this discussion, I pointed to the first reading above.

As we read the definition, we see that Israel comes from a root meaning strong. From this, Genesis tells us it means Mein Kamp, Jihad, struggle, Jacob Struggles with God. It also means healthy, and therefore straight and upright. The problem is that this feeds directly into the perception that God is in competition with man, he is an angry God, one best not argued with. That is, until we realize Jacob struggles with God, and wins. He also struggles with man, and wins.

I am reminded of a fight I had with my father when I was around five years of age. This is the reason for the second quote. God is father. In this fight, we wrestled on the floor until he finally won the fight. In the process, my sister’s favorite toy dresser was destroyed. I very much remember that. I also remember that after the fight, and I had cried uncle, I restarted the fight when Dad turned his back. For this I was reprimanded, “When a fight is over, it is over,” he said. The important thing to see here is that when a twenty something male fights a fight year old, the fight does not last long. This one did. Dad was very patient with me, just as the man, the angel in the first story was patient with Jacob an let him win.

To the small degree we can draw a picture of God, this patient father is the correct one. This is the one who lets us struggle with him, struggle to understand him and his ways, struggle to find him. We speak of the economy, and the divine economy. Economy is a fancy Greek word meaning the custom or rule of the Oikos, the House. In the family I grew up in, all was not roses, unless by roses, you include the thorns. People can and do disagree from time to time.

St. Paul is right; God is our father and we are all heirs. That means we are all family. That does not mean we agree all the time. It does mean there are limits to our disagreements. We are not free to restart fights when they are over. Yes, God does fight with us, but he does so in a way to support our growth; he is not antagonistic in his fight with us, no matter how much we are antagonistic in our fight with him.

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