I’m going to stretch the definition of "classic" once again with a book that may well be at least a "modern classic." I’ve been re-reading The Holiness of God by R. C. Sproul, and this morning I was challenged by his thoughts in chapter 7 on Jacob wrestling with the angel of God in Genesis 32.
First, Sproul gives some cultural background that changed how I view this event:
"The discussion with the angel about names is significant. The angel demanded the name of Jacob. The demand for the name was similar to the custom we have today of indicating surrender by saying "uncle." For the combatant to yield his name meant that he was acknowledging the superiority of the other party. The yielding of the name was an act of submission. When Jacob surrendered his name, he surrendered his soul. He relinquished authority over his own life. With the surrender came a new name, a new identity, Israel."
The curious thing to me is that when the angel gave Jacob his new name, he said this: "Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with men and have overcome." So it seems that the way Jacob prevailed with God was by yielding to Him. How typical of God to turn the world’s values upside down and say that victory comes through surrender!
A bit later, Sproul says this (boldfacing is mine):
"The Holy One cannot be defeated in personal combat. But there is some consolation here. Jacob wrestled with God and lived. He was left crippled, but he survived that battle. At least we can learn from this that God will engage us in our honest struggles. We may wrestle with the Holy One. Indeed, for the transforming power of God to change our lives, we must wrestle with Him. We must know what it means to fight with God all night if we are also to know what it means to experience the sweetness of the soul’s surrender."
God gives me permission to wrestle with Him! My natural tendency under pressure is to withdraw, but God would rather have me question Him or even express anger at Him than withdraw from Him. In fact, if Sproul is right (and I think he is), struggling with God is necessary to spiritual growth, because struggle leads to surrender, and surrender brings true victory.