Wrestling with the Almighty

My arms are too short to box with God. —Johnny Cash 

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.” —Genesis 32:28 NIV 

Johnny Cash learned early on what many people take years to understand: God is undefeated. He can’t be beaten, overcome, or outsmarted. He can’t be convinced by our arguments or moved by our excuses. Yet that doesn’t stop us from challenging Him from time to time. 

We may even feel justified in doing it. After all, submitting to God’s will can be hard, especially when it becomes clear that God isn’t taking into account our comfort, convenience, or preferences. So we dig in our heels. We ignore the promptings of the Holy Spirit, hoping that He will change His mind or give up. We allow our relationship with our heavenly Father to grow distant while we sulk. Occasionally we vent our frustrations or anger in a direct manner. And we join an illustrious roster of people who have gone into battle against God. 

Genesis 32 tells one such story. Jacob was on his way to meet Esau, the brother he had swindled years earlier. For all Jacob knew, Esau was about to exact his revenge. Jacob sent his family ahead and spent the night by himself, camped by a river. Perhaps he used his time alone to take stock of his life, the way he pursued his own desires, always ready with a scam or lie to help him get away. 

Suddenly a mysterious figure appeared, and Jacob started wrestling with him. The two engaged in real physical combat all night. Eventually the mysterious figure dislocated Jacob’s hip, so that he became nearly helpless. Realizing that he had been wrestling with God, Jacob asked for a blessing. 

The wrestling match, and Jacob’s injury from it, ensured that he would approach his meeting with Esau in a spirit of humility. That likely would explain why the reunion turned out to be more successful and blessed than Jacob could have imagined. Jacob wrestled with God and lost. And won. 

The short book of Jonah tells another wrestling story. God instructed his prophet Jonah to go to Nineveh to preach. But that was the last thing Jonah wanted to do. Jonah hated the Ninevites. He wanted them to face God’s wrath. So he booked passage on a ship headed in the opposite direction. He defied God and then tried to run from Him. We all know how that turned out. From the belly of a fish, Jonah had time to contemplate the fruitlessness of his battle. He wrestled with God and lost. And Nineveh won. 

Jacob and Jonah would both attest to the truth that Johnny Cash spoke. Wrestling with God is a waste of our time and energy. In the end, God’s will will be done, no matter how hard we fight it. 

Obedience is the better strategy. When we obey, we are acknowledging not only that God’s will is inevitable, but also that it will prove to be the best thing for everyone involved—including us—in the end. We were created to obey and serve God. When we do, we find the kind of peace and fulfillment that nothing else can bring. 

Heavenly Father, thank You for always having my best interests at heart. Thank You for being patient with me when I fail to recognize that truth. Wrestle with me for as long as it takes for me to embrace Your will. In Jesus’ name. Amen. 

This is an excerpt from Walking the Line: 90 Devotions of Truth and Hope Based on the Faith of Johnny Cash a new devotional now available on DaySpring.com. Shop all books, journals, and devotions from DaySpring here.