What do we do with the hard things of God?
Do we let doubts and unanswered prayers influence how we see God? Do we skim over scripture that we don’t think lines up with our concept of what a loving God should look like? How do we handle the death of a loved one or being passed over for a promotion at work?
If we aren’t careful, bitterness will creep in. The door will crack open and the enemy of our souls will have a field day planting doubt in our minds, “Did God really say…” We cannot allow our circumstances to shape our view of God.
We must allow God to shape our understanding of our circumstances.
In Genesis 32, Jacob found himself overwhelmed with fear of his brother, Esau. Years before, Jacob had deceitfully and manipulatively stolen the blessing intended for his brother. Now, he approached Esau’s land with the fruits of that blessing: a large family, many servants, immense wealth. Yet he feared his brother’s retaliation. He feared for his life…for the lives of his entire household.
After humbling himself in prayer, Jacob sent an extravagant gift ahead to Esau. Then, he sent his household ahead as well. Jacob was left completely alone when a man appeared and began to wrestle him. It’s always struck me as strange that this “man” just appears from nowhere at the exact moment Jacob is finally alone.
And just a few verses later, we discover that he’s been wrestling with God this whole night. Not a man…but God…the One who has the power to bless, to rename, to direct our paths. God is not having an identity crisis. He is secure in who He is and how He feels about us. He came to Jacob, He initiated – better yet, orchestrated – the whole event. God wanted to talk to him about identity.
“…Jacob said, ‘I will not let you go unless you bless me.’ And [the man] said to [Jacob], ‘What is your name?’ And he said, ‘Jacob.’ Then he said, ‘Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with me, and have prevailed.'” Genesis 32:26-28
At times when I haven’t heard an answer to prayer and I don’t know what the outcome is going to be, God has allowed me to realize that His thoughts are above my thoughts (meaning I wouldn’t understand even if He did tell me), but with that revelation peace is deposited and I know that everything will be all right.
I don’t have to worry about what is coming because God has told us we are entering His joy; we are going to a place where there is no more crying and no more death. Even when my feelings don’t line up, God is still faithful and He has always gone before me and made the crooked places straight.
I don’t like conflict. I would rather keep the peace than start conflict. And yet, God will allow me into situations where I must face conflict to show me that He is with me and that there are ways to handle conflict which are healthy and honoring to Him.
There are also times when I let myself get anxious about impending conflict and nothing ever comes of it. I’m sure a lot of that is me getting worked up in my mind. But I am convinced that, many times, God is diffusing situations and circumstances before I ever arrive.
And through the uncertainties, through the conflicts, God is standing ready to teach me more about who He is and who I am. He will not let an opportunity to reveal Himself to us pass Him by.
The book of James tells us that tests and trials come to perfect us. Jesus told us that in this world we will have trouble, not that we might. Our eternal God is bigger than circumstances, bigger than situations.
Just another note about Jacob, who was risking his life fighting for a blessing; he was already the carrier of blessing. God had promised him and his father (Isaac) and his grandfather (Abraham) that they would be blessed beyond comprehension.
When we are in tough places, if we will allow God to do His work, He will reveal more of our identity to us. We may not come out on the other side of trials with a physical limp, but if we let God do His work we should walk differently, with a better understanding of who we are in Him.