As boys, my brother and I loved to wrestle. Many of our friends grew up watching Hulk Hogan, Andre the Giant, Dusty Rhodes, and other professional wrestlers. But we were never believers. Our parents told us that while they were great athletes, the wrestling itself was fake. Instead, my brother and I learned Greco-Roman wrestling and developed a style closer to submission wrestling. Which usually meant he pressed my face to the ground until I cried, “uncle!” While we loved each other, we usually didn’t hold much back. We outlawed fists of course, but even so sometimes we ended up bloody or bruised.
Wrestling with God is much the same. There are real wrestlers, and then there are the folks who are just faking it. Because faking it makes for a good show. Religion that fakes it enjoys smack talk, parading around the ring, and displaying golden belts of victory. Fake wrestlers work out to build their body and sculpt their muscles, so they look good under lights in front of cameras. These muscles are less for strength than presentation.
But wrestling with God – real wrestling – often leaves one bloody or bruised. Instead of building muscle to look good under the lights, true spiritual grapplers usually appear far less impressive to an outside audience. They don’t develop their muscles to look good before a fight—they build their spiritual muscles while in the ring. Real wrestlers develop spiritual stamina that an audience could never appreciate. But when you wrestle with God, you’ve got the best sparring partner you could imagine. And even if God leaves you limping, you are better off for the contest.
Jacob’s Wrestling Match
In the Bible, Jacob is the perfect picture of one who wrestles with God. All night he struggles through the darkness, unable to see the face of his opponent. Just as the sun is about to rise, his mysterious assailant demands that he let him go. “Not unless you bless me,” Jacob says. So, God touches his hip, sending a shockwave of pain through his body, dislocating the joint.
Then God changes his name. “Now you will be known as Israel, because you have wrestled with God and with man.” His wound never heals, and he walks with a limp the rest of his life as a reminder of the epic struggle (Genesis 32).
The fact that Jacob is the only character in the Bible to put God into a full Nelson does not mean he is the only one to wrestle with the Divine. In fact, any Bible story worth telling involves a spiritual wrestling match. Those who developed the most mystical muscle did so by straining against God, testing their limits, deconstructing and then reconstructing their faith.
“Don’t Question God”
Many parents and churches encourage their children not to question God. This is a tragic thing to tell anyone, because it teaches people never to work out, never to grow, never to wrestle and build their holy abs. We know it’s okay to wrestle with God because God initiated the contest with Jacob. He saw the young man struggling in his relationships and his spirituality. God met Jacob on human terms, saw the internal struggle, and even amplified it so that eventually Jacob would know exactly who he was wrestling against.
Most of us find our deconstruction story like that of Jacob. It almost never comes at a time when everything is going all right. Usually, we begin to question because of difficult or even traumatic events. Employment, relationships, health, or another significant thing is in jeopardy. That tension causes us to rethink what we previously believed. We wrestle with God. God grinds our faces into the dirt, and even sometimes lets us try out our Suplex skills. But God never lets us go.
The wrestling match changes Jacob forever. No longer the trickster or the planter, he forever will be known as the one who wrestles with God. He exchanges his arrogant strut for a limping gate that is now slower but wiser. This will be true for you too when your deconstruction wrestling match is complete. You may never get over the pain, but you will be stronger for it.
When people tell you not to question God, just remind them that every good Bible character did. When they tell you that deconstructing your faith is dangerous, tell them they are right. Just like every good wrestling match has an element of danger, you might leave the mat limping. As you deconstruct, tell God you will not let go until God blesses you. Stay in the fight. You will be stronger for it.