Whom still I hold, but cannot see!
My company before is gone,
And I am left alone with thee;
With thee all night I mean to stay,
And wrestle till the break of day.
So begins my favourite but least sung of Charles Wesley’s hymns. I understand that Isaac Watts, himself an incomparable hymn-writer, regarded this as worth all the hymns that he had written. It is a marvellous journey into the scriptures, its 14 verses (!) weaving the story of Jacob wrestling God at Peniel with a rich variety of Biblical allusions and Wesley’s own experience of spiritual struggle and liberation.
Jacob’s struggle, and Wesley’s poetic commentary upon it, remind us that engaging with God is not simply a matter of ‘praying the prayer’ and walking into prosperity and blessing. As Kim, quoting the playwright Dennis Potter, reminded us in chapel today, “God is the wound, not the bandage.” Jacob leaves the stranger having been given a new name, a new life — but also a limp. Matthew Henry puts it this way in his commentary, “Wrestling believers may obtain glorious victories, and yet come off with broken bones; for ‘When they are weak, then they are strong’, weak in themselves, but strong in Christ”.
The struggle of the believer who wrestles with God is the struggle to know the God whose nature and name is Love. This is therefore always a struggle of faith, not despair. The fight may be hard, but our companion is the God who wounds only to heal and who has himself been wounded for our sake. The hands on which our names have been written (Isaiah 49:16) are the same that bear the marks of crucifixion, hands which lift us up and lead us home.