Tuesday, July 14, 2015

The Art of Wrestling with God

Above my desk hangs an art print I bought a couple years ago. It’s an artist’s reflection on the biblical story in which Jacob wrestles with God (Genesis 32).

The background brushstrokes evoke a darkness come suddenly alive with struggle. Black merges with purples and blues. Brushstrokes moving too quickly to stop at a defined edge violate the boundaries of the scene.

Jacob is depicted in rough cerulean blue strokes, more frantic shadow than solid form. He's fighting for his life, fighting with a God he knows and hardly begins to know. From the epicenter of the wrestling match, fragments of butterfly wing tear through the sky like shrapnel, shrieking the painful hymn of transformation.

In the lower right, the artist has inscribed Jacob’s name with black ink in Hebrew characters. Over to the left, just above the heads of the wrestling figures, he has penned the name Israel in gold. These Hebrew characters are smaller than the previous ones, still distant—still more potential than actual. But they contain a light that demands the viewer’s attention.

This new name, this new identity, this new life is what is at stake here in the darkness.


The stakes are high for me, too, just as they were for Jacob, just as they were for all the other God-wrestlers in the Bible.

God has been wrestling with mankind for millennia. But He takes us on one by one, with vast and impressive skills. The best wrestlers vary their approach based on their opponent. And make no mistake, God is the best of the best.

He wrestles with Peter on a rooftop, with Mary and Martha in their living room, with Nebuchadnezzar in the isolation of mental illness.

He tackles Jacob by a river in the dark of night, at the moment of his greatest fear.

He chases Jonah through a storm at sea and then sets up a wrestling ring in the belly of a fish.

He fakes out Elijah with an earthquake and a gale-force wind before blindsiding him with a whisper.

He catches Naomi in the grip of unexpected kindness, conquers a frantic father with unbelievable healing, and takes on religious leaders with unyielding stories.

Each of these wrestling matches looks so very different. The setting, the strategies, the struggle all fluctuate. There’s no formula for it, no required process, no preferred location. There’s no one-size-fits-all set of steps or magical-for-everyone experience or what-worked-for-me-will-work-for-you rule at play here.

But at the core, the fight remains the same: God meets up with a person in the middle of pain and confusion, and the person chooses to have it out with God rather than tap out.


I have wrestled with God for decades now—not constantly, but often enough to bear the limp. Long enough to know the value of the process. My greatest growth has come through the strongest seasons of wrestling.

But I still don’t know what the next wrestling match will look like. It’s different every time.

I’ve wrestled with God one-on-one in my garage. Knowing I was struggling, my husband hung a heavy bag from the rafters and bought me gloves so I could physically pound out my questions in conversation with the Almighty.

Sometimes I need a witness to my fight. I need a friend in my corner. So I have wrestled with God in counseling rooms and in 12-step groups.

Although I speak at retreats, I’ve also attended them, purposefully carving out time for a weekend of wrestling with God.

I’ve wrestled with God on hiking trails, and felt Him pull the truth of my tangled thoughts out of me step by hard-fought step.

I’ve scrawled words into journals with tightly-held pen. I’ve torn pictures from magazines and wrestled with God as I made a collage to illustrate my pain. I’ve brought paints and cameras and poetry into the fray.

Who knows what the next bout will look like? Not me. But I’ll be ready when, like Jacob, my darkness comes alive with struggle, and the brushstrokes of my landscape paint past the lines I’ve drawn. I’ll say yes to the God who transforms those who dare wrestle with Him and who creates art in midst of the struggle.

Kirsten Wilson teaches at Colorado Christian University. She’s attended Flatirons for six years, and facilitates groups at Shift on Friday nights. 

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