The great preacher Martyn Lloyd-Jones was once asked, “What does a person look like who has truly met God?” Alluding to Genesis 32:31 he replied, “He walks with a limp.” The story referred to by Dr. Jones is the strange tale of God and Jacob wrestling through the night. Frederick Buechner titled this story The Magnificent Defeat. Jacob tangles with his Creator and paradoxically prevails over him through being defeated.
This “crippling grace” as Kent Hughes calls it results in a limp, a changed name, and a new way walk of life for Jacob. Walter Brueggemann says the “new name cannot be separated from the new crippling, for the crippling is the substance of the name.” Jacob’s new brokenness is central to his transformation. His woundedness is the mark of God’s presence in his life.
I draw a few important things from this story. First, pain and blessing are not mutually exclusive. Blessing comes through pain. They are tied together. Second, divine encounters are not always what we might expect. When God shows up, sometimes there’s a whirlwind, sometimes there’s a lightning storm, and sometimes there’s a wrestling match. The outcome of these encounters can also be counter-intuitive. A dislocated hip is probably not what Jacob was looking for and definitely not what he expected.
The third and final observation is that transformation is gritty and sweaty. Change happens when Creator and creature grapple in close quarters. Jacob’s encounter with God was extremely earthy. It happened on the soil of the earth. It was physical, tangible, and real. God executes his sanctifying power through the concrete, raw, and painful contexts where he shows up in wrestling gear.