By Susan K. Smith,
To move to a different place, a better place, a safer space, we must wrestle.
It does not seem right or fair. With there being a God for all of us, it seems like wrestling, struggling, ought not be necessary –at least not ongoing wrestling. We get the impression by reading the Bible that Jacob wrestled with the angel, wrestled with God and then his life was OK. He had to meet his estranged brother, Esau, which he did, and we can all surmise that that meeting was uncomfortable, but the way the Bible reads, Jacob wrestled once and then went on with his life.
The story belies the fact that wrestling with God and with God’s will is a constant. There are no easy answers to the questions with which we struggle. There is no road onto which we can merge where injustice does not have a vehicle. There is no pill that can be taken that will alter and improve human behavior – our own or that of others. If we seek God, we find ourselves in places where God cannot be found, and we wonder why. As we seek God, we often find that the demonic angels (a description used by the late Vincent Harding) are around us, always, taunting and tempting and teasing us and we wonder why. When one of the demonic angels grab ahold of us, we balk and jerk away – sometimes – while at other times we allow ourselves to stay in the presence of adversaries of God and of good. Either way, we wrestle. We either wrestle immediately or we wrestle after a while, but we wonder why there has to be so much wrestling in the first place.
This is the day after which a former police officer got off the hook after murdering an unarmed black man. The jury of 11 white people and one black person could not unanimously agree on what former Officer Michael Slager should be convicted of in the shooting of Walter Scott. Video evidence notwithstanding, there was one hold-out, one juror who could not and would not vote for Slager to be convicted. A mistrial had to be declared, and another black life has seemingly gone unatoned for.
We wrestle. We wrestle with why it is black lives really do not matter and why it is God doesn’t show up in a way that will jostle white supremacy to its roots. Even as judicial injustice has once again disrespected the life and death of Walter Scott, American war veterans showed up at Standing Rock, knelt on one knee in front of the Native Americans on that land and asked forgiveness for the way white America has treated indigenous Americans since they landed in this country. Native Americans have been wrestling for justice for a long, long time.
Justice is possible, but only after wrestling.
Life trains us for the spiritual wrestling we must do in order to get to a better place and to pull God’s world to a better place. Life knocks us around the ring and pins us down. So often we are in the “bottom/down” position, and life is on top of us, hindering our movement. Our wrestling is done to get us in the “advantage/top” position, where we – where God – is in control, God is on top of the evil, God is calling the shots. The opponent – injustice – is not afraid of or
intimidated by God. The opponent keeps its hips on the mat, knees bent, seeking to reverse the position. The sheer arrogance and audacity of the adversaries and opponents of injustice make the wrestling even more crucial. We cannot give in to despair. We have to remain focused. When we are on the bottom, we have to keep our hips on the mat, our knees bent and the soles of our feet on the floor so that we can push injustice away. Because life is a wrestling match, the quest for justice will never just “be there;” we will always have to wrestle against the powers and principalities. Our goal is to pin our opponent. That means we have to get one or both the “shoulders” of injustice onto the mat and keep them there for two seconds. When we wrestle, and pin the opponent, we have won – this time – but we have won nonetheless.
All this wrestling for justice does not dismiss the fact that in our lives, we must wrestle against the opponents of our peace and well-being at the same time. Our relationship with God trains us and gives us the stamina to do both. The adversaries will taunt us and say, “Your God ain’t all that…” and if our hips are not on the mat, we will not have the strength to force a reversal. In the wrestling matches with adversaries, we must force a reversal. It is not an option.
When we wrestle with God, we do so for answers and if we allow the match to go on long enough, God will win. We must remain in the match until we get our answer. We will walk away with a limp, but walk away stronger and with clearer spiritual vision. As God is victorious, so are we, as we. Our wrestling with God teaches us the technique of wrestling with the “demonic angels,” who seek to defeat us but who must not be allowed to. With the bruises we get in the wrestling with God, we get strength and we use that strength to wrestle evil down …and out.
Jacob said to the angel, “I will not let go unless you bless me.”
Neither will we let go. We will wrestle with God so that we can wrestle with injustice…and bring it down. We will not let God go unless and until God blesses us.
Amen and amen.