Limping Toward the Grave

In his essay “Merit versus Maturity: What did Christ do for Us?” James Jordan provocatively suggests that, from the very beginning in the Garden of Eden, Man (Adam) was supposed to lay down his life for his wife. Reading Scripture with Scripture, it makes a lot of sense to see the First Man (Rom 5:12ff) as called to defend his bride against evil and danger by sacrificing his own life. Had the man done this, then surely God would have raised him from the dead and ushered him, together with his wife, into a new, more real, more glorious way of life and state of existence.

Tim Keller’s understanding of the story in Genesis 32 comports interestingly with this view of the central role of death in the Christian life, albeit in a different context, that of prayer. Preaches Keller (in his sermon “Thy Kindgom; Thy Will,” preached in 1995):

[Jacob] spent most of his life lying & cheating to get what he wanted, and never being happy. Never getting the wife he wanted, the career he wanted. Never getting what he wanted. And he was always fighting with his father & with his uncle & he was always fighting and lying and cheating. And he was always unhappy. One night he was out in the desert alone, and a mysterious stranger pounced on him, and began to wrestle with him. Now, Jacob began to wrestle back. And they wrestled all night. Hours went by. And we understand from the text that Jacob suddenly realized who he was wrestling with. This was not an ordinary human being. This was God himself, come to wrestle with Jacob. And Jacob suddenly had an epiphany, a flash of recognition. Suddenly his whole life flashed before his eyes and he realized that, his whole life, he had not really been fighting with his father, or brother, or uncle. He had been fighting with God.

And right now, he was in the ultimate dream. He had the opportunity to “pin God.” “Finally I will get from God what I deserve,” he thought. “Finally, the blessings I have always wanted.”

That’s how most people see prayer. The opportunity to pin God, to come to God and say, “I have been a Christian for five years, and I have said no to all kinds of temptations all over the place and I insist that you give me this day my daily bread.” That’s pinning God. My will be done. Look what I’ve done.

Jacob says, “I’ve got the opportunity to pin God,” and he wrestles and he struggles and struggles and it seems like, gosh, he’s making some progress, but at one point in the night the mystical stranger shows how much power he really has, and that he has not really been using any of it. He reaches out and he touches Jacob’s thigh and his thigh goes absolutely dead. And Jacob is permanently crippled.

Suddenly Jacob realizes the folly of trying to wrestle God into submission to his will, but, he does not let go. A change happens in him, an ultimate change. Now, blinded with tears and absolutely lame, he’s still holding on, and you know he says now? He says, “Bless me.” And God says, “The sun is about to rise and you are not able to see my face.” Jacob says, “I want you to bless me, I want to see your face.” God says, “No, you can’t. It will kill you. But, today I give you a new name, because you have finally been changed,” showing that Jacob had just been reborn at that moment.

“I give you a new name. You used to be called “Jacob,” but now you are called “Israel,” which means ‘you have triumphed.’ You have wrestled with God, and you have triumphed.” And then he disappears.

You might be thinking, “What?! He has triumphed!? He was lame the rest of his life! Triumphed?! How could he have triumphed?”

The point is that Jacob finally figured out what life was all about. Life is not about getting things from God. It is about getting God. And he changed from saying “I’m gonna pin God. God, give me blessings.” to finally saying, “All I really need is God. All I want is you. In your face I’ll have everything.”

You see, God is saying, “I don’t want you to seek things; I want you to seek me. And I don’t want you to give me your requests until you have given me yourself. I don’t want your requests. I want you. And I don’t want you primarily to be asking for things. I want you to be asking for me.”

And until Jacob realized that, there was no freedom in his life. Don’t you see? Prayer is the victory of the lame. prayer is the victory of the losers. The ones who surrenders and says, “Thy will be done. If I can just have you. If I can just please you. If I can just have you, then all the other requests are just gravy. And when Jacob realized that, God turned around and he said, “At last. I have been waiting all your life. I’ve been waiting to hear you say that. Now you’ve triumphed.”

What it means to say, “Thy will be done” is to say “Lord if I can only have you. If I have you and nothing else, that’s enough. I mainly want you, and I mainly want to give you me, in this prayer.”

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