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Confronting God

Genesis 32:24-31
by Rev. Frank Schaefer

Genesis 32:24-31

Jacob was left alone; and a man wrestled with him until daybreak. When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he struck him on the hip socket; and Jacob's hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him. Then he said, "Let me go, for the day is breaking." But Jacob said, "I will not let you go, unless you bless me."

So he said to him, "What is your name?" And he said, "Jacob." Then the man said, "You shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with humans, and have prevailed."

Then Jacob asked him, "Please tell me your name." But he said, "Why is it that you ask my name?" And there he blessed him. So Jacob called the place Peniel, saying, "For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life is preserved." The sun rose upon him as he passed Penuel, limping because of his hip.

I want to start by showing in the following Children's Prayers that our quarrel with God can start early in life. All of these prayers represent rudimentary confrontations...

  • Dear God, when will my sister stop being annoying? I am down to my last patience.

  • My mom tells me you have a reason for everything on earth, but why did you make the mosquito?

  • Dear God, thank You for the baby brother but what I prayed for was a puppy.

  • Dear God, it must be super hard to love all the people in the world, especially my brother. I don't know how You do it.

  • Dear God, I want to be just like my daddy when I grow up but without so much hair all over

  • Dear God, did you mean for giraffes to look like that or was it an accident?

  • Dear God, when my mom makes leftovers, do I have to pray for the food again?

Confronting God with our issues is natural, it can start in early childhood and continues through the rest of our lives. It has been expressed by plenty of bible characters in ancient times and it is being expressed around us in a variety of forms today.

The Church has not always allowed open expressions of people confronting God. At times, these natural human emotions were considered disrespectful and sometimes even labeled blasphemous.

But if you look at our bible text this morning, we find that not only is it permissible to confront God, but in our text God is even said to praise Jacob's confrontational spirit: "You shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with humans, and have prevailed."

Of course, critics would say: well, yes, Jacob got a blessing (and a new name) out of it, but he also walked away with a limp.

And, that really expresses the hesitation we all have when it comes to expressing question or even our anger toward God. We usually veil it in forms of questions, especially with why questions. To ask "why?" really expresses our issues and challenges God's in our lives or in the world.

I have to admit that I felt uncomfortable before with people who openly and boisterously expressed their anger toward God. I remember Bonnie, a 78 year old pastor's wife who lost her husband of about the same age. She was mad at God and let everybody in church know about it. She went on and on about how it wasn't fair that he had given his whole life to the ministry while God cut his retirement short. I remember saying to her that I believed that it was good that she expressed her feelings to God (though I wished that she would have quit talking about it in church). It took about a year until Bonnie's anger abated, when she started working as a Chaplain's assistant in a local hospital.

According to our Scripture passage it's ok to confront God, even boisterously and intensely. While fighting God, Jacob said to him: "I will not let you go, unless you bless me." And in the end God was impressed and blessed him.

In my own experience as a Father, I have to say that I would rather have my children come to me with their quarrel and confront me in the worst way, then to not talk to me at all.

When my youngest son was 4 he suddenly stopped talking. He was diagnosed with selective mutism. Even with the help of the Intermediate Unit of the school system and a very capable psychologist, it took 2 years before my son started talking again. Can you imagine? Two years of non-verbal communication. I remember thinking: what would I give to be able to know what my son was experiencing. Can you imagine the lonliness in his head. My wife, children and I all felt we missed so many important moments of his life that he could not express to us. Trust me, I would rather have my son yell at me than not talk to me at all.

If God is anything like me in this respect, God would rather have you express your anger than to be on no speaking terms. I believe our silence and absence pains God more than anything.

So if you should find yourself mad at God or having issues with God, take your cue from this Scripture passage and express them. God is big enough to take it. And if you need to put your emotions into words an don't know how, here are some examples of confrontational prayers taken straight from the Psalms:

Psalm 10:1

Why, O LORD, do you stand far off?
Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?

Psalm 22:1

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Why are you so far from saving me,
so far from the words of my groaning?

Psalm 42:9

I say to God my Rock,
"Why have you forgotten me?
Why must I go about mourning,
oppressed by the enemy?"

Psalm 44:23-24

Awake, O Lord! Why do you sleep?
Rouse yourself! Do not reject us forever.

Why do you hide your face
and forget our misery and oppression?

Psalm 74:1

Why have you rejected us forever, O God?
Why does your anger smolder against the sheep of your pasture?

Psalm 74:11
Why do you hold back your hand, your right hand?
Take it from the folds of your garment and destroy them!

Psalm 79:10

Why should the nations say,
"Where is their God?"
Before our eyes, make known among the nations
that you avenge the outpoured blood of your servants.