Sometimes I feel like Jacob, wrestling with an angel of God.
Especially when I can’t grasp an unqualified answer that satisfies me; I continue plunging on, like Jacob, whose name was changed to Israel because he demonstrated that he was willing to let God prevail in his life. In response, God then promised Israel that all the blessings pronounced upon Abraham would be his.
Remember the story?
Jacob got up in the middle of the night and took his wives, eleven children, and everything he owned across to the other side of the Jabbok River for safety. Afterwards, Jacob went back and spent the rest of the night alone.
A man came and fought with Jacob until just before daybreak. When the man saw that he could not win, he struck Jacob on the hip and threw it out of joint. They kept wrestling until the man said, “Let go of me! It’s almost daylight.”
“You can’t go until you bless me,” Jacob replied.
The man asked, “What is your name?”
“Jacob,” he answered.
The man said, “From now on, your name will no longer be Jacob. You will be called Israel, because you have wrestled with God and with men, and you have won.”
Jacob said, “Now tell me your name.”
“Don’t you know who I am?” he asked. And he blessed Jacob.
Jacob said, “I have seen God face to face, and I am still alive.” So he named the place Peniel. The sun was coming up as Jacob was leaving Peniel. He was limping because he had been struck on the hip, and the muscle on his hip joint had been injured. That’s why even today the people of Israel don’t eat the hip muscle of any animal.
The Lord never told Jacob his name.
There’s plenty of questions I have for Him, but I know He’s not ready (or, maybe, it’s me) to tell me my name or my story.
Take Easter, for instance. There are those who swear that unless you confess the bodily resurrection – that, after being dead for three days, Jesus rose to live again – the Christian faith means nothing. It’s all based on that singular miracle that God raised Jesus from the dead.
Who knows? I certainly don’t. But neither did the people who spent their time walking and talking with Jesus. Did he really die? Why didn’t those people walking on the road recognize him? Was Mary really the first to see him? Then ran to share the good news with the other disciples? And what about Thomas, the one we refer to as “doubting?”
So many theories have historically buzzed that Jesus never died. That it all was part of a Passover plot. That there was no resurrection—at least not in bodily form. That it’s all meant to be a metaphor or a basis for building the faith. That the primary Gospel left out the resurrection, while the latter ones added and embellished it.
On the other hand, we also read about Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead to new life. And Elijah, who stretched himself three times upon the widow’s son … “And the Lord heard the voice of Elijah; and the soul of the child came into him again, and he revived” (1 Kings 17:21-22).
Not that it matters.
Our beliefs shouldn’t be “eithers” or “ors,” fact vs. faith, allegorical and/or historical.
Truth be told, most people hang onto their religions for one of two reasons: They’re afraid to die and cease existing as they know it. Or, they’ve been clobbered with verses to avoid sins-or-else-hell and enticed by angelic choirs, streets paved with gold, and celestial reunions with their loved ones.
Apart from certain curiosities and circuitous circumstances, I’ve yet to meet anyone who has died and returned to talk about what it’s like on the other side of the paradise we’re hell-bent on destroying.
That’s where Easter comes in …
The Easter questions comprise our belief that hope springs eternal.
It’s not about faith. Nor love. Nor tradition. Nor creeds and confessions. Neither is it about recognizing a masterful act to validate our experience and what we believe.
Instead, it’s about our determination to persevere, hoping that our hearts and what we hold most dear will prevail. Against tyrants like Vladimir Putin. Oligarchs and capitalists who create a special kind of autocracy that absolves them of any resolve to repent and be merciful. Or democracies gone bad when the greed factor turns to prejudice and hate, special interests and injustice.
Whether I know, instinctively, that the Son of Man was or wasn’t killed and did or didn’t rise again to life, isn’t that important to me. That he was martyred, however, was … as it beckons me to his words and ways, deeds and indeeds. I want to know his story. And do my best to follow his path.
“How does us appreciating spring help the people of Ukraine?” asked Facebook friend Anne Lamott. “If we believe in chaos theory, and the butterfly effect, that the flapping of a Monarch’s wings near my home can lead to a weather change in Tokyo, then maybe noticing beauty — flapping our wings with amazement — changes things in ways we cannot begin to imagine. It means goodness is quantum. Even to help the small world helps. Even prayer, which seems to do nothing. Everything is connected.”
At my age, I ache. So, as I rise each morning to new days full of promise and potential, I am thankful. I’m still alive and kicking. As I follow the news and see trends – the ups and downs of the stock market, the urgent desire to help others against all odds, the Covid crisis taking a back seat to other “Breaking News!” of the moment, the small advances that dedicated scientists and philanthropists are making against the behemoth that is climate change, even the blessings that progressive theologians have brought to enliven the hitherto hold fundamentalists and literalist bondage to the Bible “just as God wrote it” – my faith surges and is restored … bit by bit.
When it comes down to it, that’s what Easter is really about and gives reason to rejoice: Hope restored.
“I will celebrate that I have shelter and friends and warm socks and feet to put in them, and that God or Gus found a way to turn the madness and shame of my addiction into grace, I’ll shake my head with wonder, which I do more and more as I age, at all the beauty that is left and all that still works after so much has been taken away,” Anne Lamott concludes.
It’s rising and shining beyond all the grit and grief … and I say hallelujah to that. Because, like Jacob, we too have been blessed!
Bruce Joffe is publisher and creative of Portugal Living Magazine. You can read the magazine’s current issue and subscribe — at no cost! — via this link: