Monday, 17 June 2013

Reading the Bible 25: Genesis 32: 22-32 What’s in a Name?

Jacob’s wresting match with the angel – the messenger of God – is a story most of us who are familiar with the Bible know – or think we do.  The encounter comes at a time of crisis for Jacob.  Jacob has sent his family and all that he has away across the stream as he prepares for his fateful meeting with his brother Esau.  He hopes it will be a meeting of forgiveness and reconciliation.  However, he fears the worst – that he might not survive the encounter.  He alone with his God.

How often when we have hit bottom and have reach the end of our tether do we have an encounter with the divine – with God?  It may not seem as clear as Jacob’s encounter but could well be as dramatic in its own way.  One of my favourite scenes from the move The Life of Pi is when the hero Piscine (Pi) finally realizes that despite all his efforts and all his ingenuity there is nothing more he can do and gives control over to God.  It is similar in the 12 step program of AA and any other form of addiction.  The first step is to admit that we are powerless to control our situation.  Then we must give over control over to God - the power greater than ourselves.  It is very hard for us to let go of the illusion that we are in total control of our lives. 
What is may overlook in this epiphany is the significance of names.  Jacob has his name changed to Israel by the heavenly messenger.   He is given this name as he ‘has striven with God and with humans and have prevailed’.   That is a name which anyone would be glad to be given.  It is at this point that Jacob is certain that he has encountered the divine and knows that God is with him.  The messenger also refuses to tell Jacob – now Israel – his? name.  This is because God is not to be named i.e. as Moses will find out i.e. I am who I am.  Some things are not meant to be named because when we name them we begin to make assumptions about them and believe we have defined them.  As we are told, ‘For I have seen God face to face and yet my life is preserved.  Looking back on the times in which we have had to let go of our illusion of control we can be amazed that we have survived.  We are not the same as Israel went away limping we will will changed by the encounter but by the grace of God we will survive.

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