A Parable of Wrestling

Jacob Wrestling with the Angel, Redon
Jacob Wrestling with the Angel, Redon

For your meditation and contemplation today, this parable told by Ron Rolheiser:

In his autobiography, the renowned writer Nikos Kazantzakis shares a conversation he had with an old monk named Father Makários. Sitting with the saintly old man, Kazantzakis asked him: “Do you still wrestle with the devil, Father Makários?”

The old monk reflected for a while and then replied: “Not any longer, my child, I have grown old now, and he has grown old with me. He doesn’t have the strength . . . . I wrestle with God.”

“With God!” exclaimed the astonished young writer. “And do you hope to win?”

“I hope to lose, my child,” replied the old ascetic. “My bones remain with me still, and they continue to resist.”

• Ron Rolheiser
Sacred Fire: A Vision for a Deeper Human and Christian Maturity

25 thoughts on “A Parable of Wrestling

  1. I really liked that.

    As a young mother said to her 2 year old jumping up and down on the plastic baby Jesus from a toy nativity scene; “That’s right Sophie. Jump up and down on the baby Jesus because your problems will be with him.”


  2. Yes. Dying alone and abandoned must be far worse than dying surrounded by those who value you and take time and care for you, even in your extremity.


  3. Robert, I must agree that the enormity of suffering in the world seems to make any effort of hope or any gesture of kindness, so small and meaningless that one might not as well make it. The only emotion remaining possible in your (very fine, IMO) poem is compassion. Compassion seems to me to be worth hanging on to.

    Kazantzakis’s epitaph which Steve quotes seems like a sane response to suffering: no hope, no fear, no desire except for death. Almost Hindu or Buddhist — your only hope being to escape life and its inevitable misery.

    But as Christians, do we have the luxury of this bleak stoicism? It seems to me that we don’t, that it is our duty to hope and to struggle against the acceptance of suffering. The dying were lying helpless and hopeless in the streets of India, with good, devout Hindus passing them by and believing it was OK, it was the destiny of these people to undergo this misery and death. It took a vigorous little Christian woman with a “Screw this!” attitude to start picking them up and cleaning them up and giving them some food and care, and ushering them out of the world with some decency and dignity. Yes, they still died. But compassion made a difference in their dying; suffering was not — thanks to Mother Teresa and her helpers — the last thing those sufferers ever knew.


  4. Yes, I think God performed an artful piece of jujitsu on Jacob, to the degree that Jacob and the writers of the Old Testament thought Jacob prevailed. But you’ll notice who names whom at the end, and I seem to remember that to name someone or something is to hold power over them, according to ANE beliefs.


  5. Pardon my convoluted sequence of thoughts. I typed this comment at two different times and failed to reread but you get the jist. It would seem that everyone is a winner.


  6. “And he said, “Your name shall no longer be Jacob, but Israel; for you have striven with God and with men and have prevailed.”
    Who won and who lost? Jacob did walk with a limp for the rest of his life. No one comes away unscathed from that fight. Nonetheless it would seem that God got what He wanted. He won by losing and in so doing brought forth a new creation. Jacob became Israel. What did Jacob lose by winning? You might say he lost himself. He lost the man of the flesh and became a partner with God. There are in fact no losers. The only loss would have been Jacob’s inability to endure the Lord, raw and unveiled and to shy away from that. He met God face to face in the form of that fight and survived. That would seem to be the hoped for result.


  7. Wresting with Satan sounds like struggling with sin. When I read about wrestling with God, I think of Jacob’s story in the Old Testament, but I forgot what that meant. I’d like to know what it means to wrestle with God? Is it like trying to refuse him?


  8. This seems like a “persistent widow” type of tenacity. I think this can done without wretched urgency, by wretches like me. “Hold on…” seems like a heavenly word, to me.


  9. I recently did a talk on the “Jacob wrestles with God” passage, and in my research I came across the theory that Jacob was actually wrestling with Esau. Mainly in the extensive preparations for Esau to arrive, the whole wrestling match in the translations I’ve found only refer to the person he wrestles as a man, and while he does say essentially that he’s seen the face of God, a half chapter later when he greets Esau in the daylight, he says that seeing his face is like seeing the face of God. The specific paper I found laying out this interpretation obviously did a much better job explaining it than this, but it did solve a lot of the kind of unaddressed conundrums about interpreting the passage as wrestling with God (though some get around this by saying it’s either an Angel, or specifically Esau’s Angel)


  10. As a young fundamentalist could it be that where I started to go wrong was to hang on to the certainty of my beliefs rather than God himself?


  11. Since the last of my days attending a Pentecostal church I have finished with giving the devil his due. They spent an inordinate amount of time railing at the devil so that he almost seemed like a co-star.

    Sure, I still have those besetting sins that dog my thoughts and impulses, but more troubling to me are my struggles with faith. Not belief and faith in God as much as it is faith and belief in the things surrounding that faith, specifically the bible itself.

    But here I do not attribute those struggles to the devil as much as I see them as God’s wrestling with me, trying to pin me down while I twist and turn, seeking to escape His grasp. His intent is for me to become conformed to the image of His Son and He wants me to break free from preconceived and mistaken ideas so that I can see Him more clearly. But I continue to hang on to issues of doctrine and belief, using them as a shield or a barrier to really seeing Him.

    It is not that my beliefs are WRONG, necessarily, it is just that it is easier to hang onto THEM than it is to be open to fellowship with One who see through that shield. And THAT is frightening!


  12. Yes. Certainly there are metaphors for any and every aspect of the spiritual life. The monk said he hoped to lose and that is one metaphor for one thing. The other is to win. This is the one I am familiar with; that God is seeking just such people who will wrestle with him and endure.


  13. Father Stephen Freeman has written a great article about wrestling with God. You can read it at his website if you choose, but here is how he ends the article, which I think is both beautiful and accurate……….

    But it is the true God who lies awake at night and troubles the sleep of the anxious and sets the conscience on fire. God is ready to wrestle with us, and even delights Himself in losing.


  14. “how long, O Lord ? . . . ”

    “blessed are they that hunger and thirst
    after righteousness
    for they shall be filled”

    “Let anyone who is thirsty
    come to Me
    and drink”


  15. I seem to have selected the worst sparring partner of them all. I wrestle mostly with myself, so that even when I win, I lose.

    Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down Mule by Mule, and upon… wait, that’s not how it goes.

    For some reason, the attack of ISIS on the Parisians affected me more deeply than it should. I am still remembering in my prayers the parents of those whose children were slaughtered by the Taliban in Peshawar, Pakistan nearly a year ago, and since then – the beheading of the Copts on the beach, the destruction of the Russian airliner, the explosion in the Beirut nightclub and now this. My mind fills with thoughts of vengeance and at night, violent dreams of fire and the discharge of automatic weapons. My own attempts to subdue my mind into subjection to the peace of Christ have been mostly futile.

    Oh, that I could wrestle with God.


  16. I have yet to wrestle with God. So far, he has been merciful and let me only wrestle with the devil.


    On the street
    maybe a dozen yards
    from my parked car

    A small dead animal
    whether cat or squirrel
    I can’t tell
    Crushed beyond

    I feel my spirit
    itself being crushed
    writhe under the weight
    of horror and sadness

    Under the wheels
    of this world that rolls
    toward death

    I pray, Lord,
    may suffering not be
    the last thing
    your creature ever knows


  17. I saw Kazantzakis’s grave in Greece. I still remember his epitaph:
    “I hope for nothing
    I fear nothing
    I am free”

    I was 28 and that was the most depressing epitaph I ever read.


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