What Type of Faith Do You Have?
Genesis 32 tells the story of Jacob, wrestling through the night with a nameless man, revealed to be none other than God Himself. We read that when this man “saw that he could not overpower” Jacob, he “touched the socket of Jacob’s hip so that his hip was wrenched as he wrestled with the man” (v. 25).
It is only at daybreak, after a long night of wrestling, that the Lord entreats Jacob to end his struggle (v. 26). However, Jacob refuses to release his grip until he receives a blessing. The Lord responds by asking, “What is your name?” This request leads to the punch line of the story. Apparently willing to do whatever it takes to receive a “blessing” from his wrestling partner, Jacob gives his name, at which point the Lord immediately informs him that his name is about to change. From now on, the Lord says, Jacob will be called Israel because he has “struggled with God and with human beings and overcome.”
“Jacob” did not become “Israel” because he overpowered the Lord, but because he had the audacity to wrestle with God, holding on until he received the “blessing” for which he fought. This new christening speaks to what I call an Israelite Faith: a faith that calls for the courage to struggle honestly with the Creator, having even the audacity to wrestle in pursuit of blessing.
However, there is more to this name change. The meaning of “Jacob” in popular usage of the time literally means “heel catcher,” for Jacob was born grabbing the heel of his twin brother, Esau (Gen 25:26). It has the connotation of one who connives to supplant another, and the story of Jacob bears this out as he was a true trickster.
The meaning of “Jacob” challenges our ordinary conceptions of faith and how it works. Often, what masquerades as faith is really a form of mental trickery: we artificially convince ourselves, side-step hard questions, and avoid at all cost the courageous wrestling God here applauds. We follow disingenuously, trying to believe the right things, use the right pious language, and act in the right ways in order to get something from God, whether it be salvation or healing or some other blessing.
When we do this, we do not base our faith on an honest and rational evaluation of the merits of what we profess to believe. Rather, we avoid facts and arguments that might shake our faith. In other words, much of what we call faith today is Jacob-like, not Israel-like.
The biblical heroes of the faith are better known for their willingness to be uncomfortable and to wrestle honestly with God. We see this in Genesis 18 with Abraham, who questioned God’s justice. Moses objected to God’s plans to destroy the Israelites in Exodus 32. Jeremiah objected to God’s actions—or at least what he thought were his actions (Jer 12:1; 14:8-9). And Habakkuk expressed his anger and confusion about God’s apparent inconsistency.
Israelite faith is not a faith centered on right beliefs and pious, religious language. And it’s certainly not a faith that focuses on fostering a sense of security at cost to real reflection. Rather, it’s a faith so grounded in authenticity that is unwilling to sweep questions, doubts, and complaints under a pious rug to avoid pain and uncertainty. It’s a faith that is not afraid to go to the mat with God.
—Adapted from Benefit of the Doubt, pages 78-83
Image by michael_swan via Flickr In sharp contrast to many today who seek the comfortable feeling of certainty as a way of feeling at peace with God, biblical heroes are better known for their willingness to be uncomfortable and to honestly wrestle with God. Like Jacob who wrestled with God through the night (Gen 32), the heroes…
In 1996 a 27-year-old man in my church named David was diagnosed with an inoperable brain cancer. The doctors decided to send David to the Mayo Clinic to receive some experimental treatments on the slim hope these might at least prolong his life. The night before David left, I and a dozen other people went…
Greg discusses faith, doubt, and healings. Episode 486 http://traffic.libsyn.com/askgregboyd/Episode_0486.mp3
Greg is feverishly working on a new book on faith and doubt and he decided to preach on this topic for a couple of weeks. He’s also been dealing with this topic on the blog as a part of fleshing out the ReKnew Manifesto. This week he asks the question: Is certainty-seeking, doubt-shunning faith idolatrous? Many…
In the church where I first found Christ, we used to sing a hymn called “Standing on the Promises of God.” The hymn itself isn’t bad, for it focuses entirely on our relationship with God. But in many cases, I’ve found this phrase applied in ways that express, and reinforce, a magical kind of faith.…
What does it actually mean to have faith? This is a topic I address at length in Benefit of the Doubt, but this post provides a very basic answer to this question. To appropriately understand the New Testament’s teaching on faith, we need to understand faith within the context of our marriage-like covenant with God…