Genesis 32:22–32: The Struggle of Israel
Philosophers have long wrestled with the so-called “problem of evil.” In a nutshell, the problem of evil raises a thorny dilemma: If God is all-knowing, all-powerful, and absolutely good, then how can evil still exist? Or, from the opposite perspective, if evil does exist, then how can we say that God is all-knowing, all-powerful, and absolutely good? This is not a purely theoretical question that is relegated to the ivory towers of academia, but an intensely practical question that all of us intuitively feel throughout our lives. How do we reconcile the suffering we experience with what the Bible teaches about God’s goodness?
To be sure, the Bible does not give us simplistic answers to such a complicated question. Instead of offering tidy logical proofs to explain away the philosophical problem of evil, the Scriptures reframe the issue as a theological paradox of suffering. God is all-knowing, all-powerful, and absolutely good, and yet, suffering does exist. God is not the author of evil, nor does he tempt anyone to sin, but he is nevertheless sovereign over our suffering. The story of Jacob’s wrestling match with God in Genesis 32 takes this paradox one step further. In this narrative, we discover that our lifelong struggle to make sense of our suffering is not so much a philosophical question about the circumstances of our lives, but more so an intense, personal struggle to come to terms with God, face to face. The paradox of suffering jarringly sets our real, deep, vile pain right alongside God’s intimate, wise, and gracious purposes for our lives: God wrestles with us to remake us.
1. Describe the weakness and vulnerability of Jacob’s condition when God attacks him (Gen. 32:22–24). Why does God wrestle with us most when we are at our weakest? How has God prepared Jacob for this wrestling match? How does God supply strength to Jacob to endure the wrestling? How have you seen God give grace to you to endure wrestling with him?
2. How many ways has Jacob pursued God’s blessing by his own strength during his life? How does Jacob’s injured hip affect Jacob’s ability to continue pursuing God’s blessing by his own strength? How does Jacob now seek God’s blessing by faith (Gen. 32:26)? How have you experienced suffering that has forced you to seek God’s blessing through faith alone?
3. Why does God ask Jacob for Jacob’s name (Gen. 32:27)? What has Jacob done as a Jacob (supplanter/usurper) over the course of his life? What does Israel mean regarding God’s fighting? What does Israel mean regarding Jacob’s fighting? Left to yourself, where does your character lead you? If God renamed you by giving you new character, how would that change your life?
4. What does it mean that Jacob has “seen God face to face” (Gen. 32:30)? Why does God choose to reveal his face to Jacob through this wrestling match? How has God revealed his face to us through Jesus Christ? What do the Scriptures mean by urging us to continue seeking the face of the Lord? How is the blessing of seeing God’s face worth the price of a lifelong limp?