Our Blessed Struggle
I find it interesting that, of all the names God could have chosen for His people, He chose “Israel.” And while different opinions exist as to what the name Israel actually means, it seems that the context in which the name is given in Genesis 32 favors the meaning “he struggles with God” over every other option (see verses 22–32 and Hos. 12:3–4). It would seem that God, in His infinite wisdom, chose to call His people “strugglers.”
As we consider what it means for us as Christians to live between the times, let us begin by remembering that, as the true Israel of God (Rom. 2:28–29; 4:11–12; Gal. 6:12–16), Christians are heirs to the name that was originally given to Jacob; we are “strugglers.” And isn’t that what it really means to live between the times? Is there any better description than this of what the Christian life looks like in light of the already/not yet? As Christians we are called, like Jacob, to be strugglers — to wrestle with God and with man and to overcome (Hos. 12:2–6).
But what does it mean to struggle with God? It means, in the first place, that we struggle with the providence of God. The tension between the already and the not yet indicates that Christians live in a sinful world, a world that is affected by sin and inhabited by sinners. Illness, disease, famine, and natural disasters are all consequences of living in a world that is itself affected by sin and is “not yet” made new. Lawlessness, violence, terrorism, and war are consequences of living in a world inhabited by sinners who have also “not yet” been made new or who may never be.
Christians living between the times must struggle with these kinds of consequences in the providence of God. Our struggle, however, is never to be against Him. No matter how dark His providence may be, we are never to fight against God or to shake our fist at Him. But there are many times in the Christian life when we may not understand what God is doing. There are many times when we may question why “bad things” are happening to us. What is the Christian to do, for instance, when the marriage breaks down? When the child runs away, turns her back on the family, or dies an unexpected death? What is the Christian to do when the doctors say it is cancer? When an accident takes away all “quality of life” in an instant? When, as has been true in my own experience, the nation’s worst natural disaster destroys one’s home, business, church, and community? What is the Christian to do at times like this? Quite simply, he or she is to struggle with God.
Isn’t that what Job did? Through all the dark providences of his life, Job struggled, and, like Jacob, he did not let go. He wrestled, and he prevailed — despite the opposition he received from those closest to him.
The same is true for us. No matter how dark our pathways may get, no matter how black the clouds over our heads may be, we, like Job, are to strive with all our might and hold on until the day breaks — and it will eventually break. We are to say with Jacob: “I will not let you go until you bless me.”
That is what struggling with the providence of God looks like. It is not to be a joyless endurance. It is not a senseless pain that is only to be tolerated until it can be eliminated altogether. It is trusting God in the midst of hardship and resting content in what He has sent our way, knowing that He really does intend all things for our good and for His glory. It is struggling well.
In the second place, struggling with God means that we are to struggle alongside God. The tension between the already and the not yet indicates that Christians are sinners. Although we are not what we used to be, we are clearly not yet what we will be. We have been made new in Christ, but we are not yet perfected. This means that the Christian life will necessarily be one in which the believer struggles with the sin that still remains within him (à la Rom. 7:15–25). The Christian must strive to put sin to death and to pursue holiness and righteousness. But he or she does this by the power of the Holy Spirit (Rom. 8:12–14; Phil. 2:12–13). We are to strive, Paul says, because God is striving within us. We are to struggle together with God against our sin and against the evil one. And in this too we are not to let up. We are to hold on until the day breaks and the shadows flee away. We, like Jacob, are to struggle all night long and prevail.
As Christians living between the times, we should expect to struggle. We should expect to struggle with frowning providences, and we should expect to struggle against sin and against the Evil One. The presence of a struggle should not concern us so much as the absence of one. Living between the times means that we will struggle. But we must learn to struggle well. We must not let go until He blesses us!