So Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him till daybreak. When the man saw that he could not overpower him, he touched the socket of Jacob’s hip so that his hip was wrenched as he wrestled with the man. Then the man said, “Let me go, for it is daybreak.”
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.”Genesis 32:24-30
Today, at the Panera Bread restaurant in Wake Forest, the Saturday morning men’s Bible study enjoyed a deep and animated discussion around the half-truth, “God said it, I believe it, that settles it.”
Essentially this was a conversation around the problems that come with literalism.
“Not even avowed literalists really are,” I said. “They are more accurately described as selective literalists.” In a sense we all are.
Because of course the Bible is a complex and storied document. The Bible not only contains stories, it is a story in itself. From oral tradition, to original languages, to translations, to idiom, to context, to layers of meaning, to shifts in vernacular, to political and geographic idiosyncrasies, to the selection process of what books made the final cut, to addendums, to additions, to the constant recalibrating of cultural norms….
If we don’t understand (for example) that the biblical definition of “family” has involved not only one man, one woman but also several wives, concubines, divorce, and servants designated as bed-warmers; or that it was once acceptable “biblically speaking” to kill disrespectful children, stone unfaithful women, and keep slaves; or that some words and phrases are literally not translatable into accurate English; or that an infinite God cannot be contained or defined by finite words… or that there have been times in history when Christians happily cut off the hands of children taking bread; or believed women are the property of men; or were confident that God is in favor of burning people for translating the Bible into English… then were are not really in a good position to say there is one unquestionable interpretation of a certain text, and that we – or our church – are the ones favored with declaring exactly what that interpretation is.
Wrestle with God:
“I love the story of Jacob, when he was getting ready to cross back over the ford (of the Jabbok) and meet his brother,” I said. “Jacob was waylaid by God, and the two of them wrestled; they struggled with one another until both God and Jacob were ready for what might come next.”
God wants us to struggle with faith, to engage difficult topics, to talk with one-another, to disagree, to respect the process, to ask and to listen to reasonable questions, and to wrestle.
We were created as beings with a relationship to truth that is not supposed to be unthinking, acquiescent, obsequious, and blind. Instead, we were (we are) created in God’s image, with not just the wherewithal but the responsibility to struggle.
We have not just the wherewithal but the responsibility to struggle with God’s word. The caveat here, and this is very important, is that we invest ourselves in an active relationship with The Word in order to more effectively engage with the words.
The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. – John 1:14
That is more than enough to process for today. Stay tuned. In love – DEREK