To Wrestle With God: A Reflection by Will Campbell

“Jacob was left there alone. Then a man wrestled with him until the break of dawn.” [Genesis 32:25, NABRE]

In my line of work, I have the pleasure of taking people through struggles toward their goals. Through this career and in my good fortune, I’ve met encountered people from different walks of life and had many varying types of conversations. One such conversation, or series of conversations, was with a Rabbi client of mine. A man of faith and family, this Rabbi and I spoke about the inherent truth of struggle and its “necessity” in life – whether physically, mentally or spiritually. At the time, we connected on the story of Jacob.

My own recent struggles as a father of two young children (can you say lack of sleep?), husband to a newly pregnant wife, and dealing with loss of business during the pandemic had me thinking about Jacob. My faith has been tested, even weakened to a degree. Then, I heard the story again during a Christmas Day homily.

Personally, I have always been awestruck that such a prominent figure, both in the Jewish tradition and in the geneology of Christ, struggled and literally wrestled with God. Not only that, but Jacob was transformed through his struggle, and even given a new name by God (Israel). This name change is key. When you change the name, you change the destiny of the person. When God makes your name holy, he is reaching you deeply so as to change your heart and mind and set you on a new way of life. This is the story of Jacob.

As we shared our thoughts, the good Rabbi was kind enough to send me some teachings on the original Hebrew from Genesis 32:25.

He wrote, “The Hebrew word here for wrestle has the root A-V-K which is the same root as one of the words for dust (you can think of the image as when you wrestle on dry dirt, you dust up the ground). Biblical scholars cite this as a “Creation Typology” that is, imagery linked to the creation narrative. 

While the word for dust in Genesis 2:7 (“the Lord God formed the man out of the dust of the ground…”) is different (Ah-F-R), the core idea is the same, that is the linking between dust and creation, and here between wrestling and creation”.

So, we go even deeper with the struggle narrative. Not only is a struggle necessary for transformation, but it has a very “oneness” with the creation of life itself. While struggling with Jacob, God was, in essence, “re-creating” Jacob into Israel. When we struggle or wrestle with God, we participate in creation and, perhaps, re-create ourselves in the process through God’s direction, strength and everlasting kindness. 

As a side note, this is why I love discussing biblical stories. Narratives are not a linear exposition of truth like a treatise or an educational model. It is not propositional. It is circular and can engage your sense of plot, characterization and inferencing skills.

Truth is revealed in narratives. Action, plot, characters, the psyche of the people and the settings are carriers of the theological reality of the story. It does not explicitly state the reality, it illustrates it.

The truth here is that we all have or currently experience struggle. 2020 has proven this on a global scale right down to the individual level.

I encourage you to find your personal struggle, embrace it, and wrestle with God. 

I promise you won’t be disappointed. 


  1. Thanks, Will, for this wonderful and hopeful reminder that struggle not only leads to but is often essential for transformation. God invites us to climb the ropes and enter the ring…


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