Current religious data shows that church attendance is declining in nearly all major denominations in the United States. One study shows the proportion of the population in the United States that call themselves Christian has declined from 86% in 1990 to 77% in 2001.
In order to attract people to their worship services, churches are resorting to new forms of evangelism. One church in Georgia has decided to give away cars and groceries as an outreach inducement. However, the most creative outreach method has been developed by Rob Adonis, a professional wrestler who developed Ultimate Christians Wrestling. His goal is to bring new people to church by wrestling for the Lord.
Mr. Adonis said the idea of using wrestling as an evangelism tool came when God appeared in a dream and told him to use his abilities to bring people to the Lord. When asked whether Christianity and pro-wrestling were compatible, Mr. Adonis points out that in the Old Testament, Jacob wrestled with an angel (to read the full story, click here).
But did he? Did Jacob wrestle with an angel? This is not what the Bible says. In the story of Jacob’s encounter with the heavenly being, the biblical text says: “Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him until daybreak” (Genesis 32:24). I believe the words of the text are important for the correct understanding of what happened to Jacob. The text says it was the angel who wrestled with Jacob and not Jacob who wrestled with the angel.
From the beginning, Jacob’s life was marked by wrestling with people. It was by cunning and deceit that Jacob had wrestled the birthright from his brother Esau. It was by cunning and deceit that he wrestled the blessing from his father Isaac. In addition, it was because of cunning and deceit that Jacob was forced to flee from the wrath of his father-in-law Laban.
When Jacob was fleeing the threat posed by his brother Esau, God appeared to him and renewed the promise he had made to Abraham: “I am the LORD, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac; the land on which you lie I will give to you and to your offspring” (Genesis 28:13). Then, God made another promise to Jacob: “I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you” (Genesis 28:15).
The Lord never left Jacob alone. At the command of the Lord and after twenty years from that first encounter with God, Jacob left his home in Paddan-aram to return to the land of his ancestors, the land of the promise (Genesis 31:3).
In order to save Jacob from Esau’s wrath and in order to bring Jacob to a point in his life where the promise could be fulfilled, it was necessary for God to first meet Jacob as an enemy and convince him that his real opponent was God. In a sense, God put aside his divine power and struggled with Jacob as a man struggles with a man. The struggle between God and Jacob was not just a dream or a mere spiritual struggle. God became a human in order to wrestle with what Emil Brunner called, “a man in revolt.”
God wrestled with Jacob all that night. Wrestling with Jacob is what God did all that night and what God had been doing all of Jacob’s life. In the end, God was unable to defeat Jacob. When the man saw that he could not prevail against Jacob as they wrestled, he deliberately threw Jacob’s hip out of joint. The disabling of Jacob indicates how hard he had wrestled with God. The new name Jacob received indicates that, in his wrestling with men and with God, Jacob had prevailed.
There is an important lesson for us to learn from this. Wrestling for the Lord can be fun, entertaining, and it may pay well, but wrestling with the Lord can be painful and life changing. The truth is, those believers who wrestle with God and win, may obtain many glorious victories but, in the end, they will come out with broken bones. The lesson every Christian must learn is simple: it does not pay to wrestle with the Lord.
Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary