Flannery O’Connor once wrote, “The truth does not change according to our ability to stomach it.”
It’s no secret.
The truth hurts.
We know this.
I’m reminded of the story in Genesis where Jacob wrestles God.
“The same night he got up and took his two wives, his two maids, and his eleven children, and crossed the ford of the Jabbok. He took them and sent them across the stream, and likewise everything that he had. Jacob was left alone; and a man wrestled with him until daybreak. When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he struck him on the hip socket; and Jacob’s hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him. Then he said, “Let me go, for the day is breaking.” But Jacob said, “I will not let you go, unless you bless me.” So he said to him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Jacob.” Then the man said, “You shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with humans, and have prevailed.” Then Jacob asked him, “Please tell me your name.” But he said, “Why is it that you ask my name?” And there he blessed him. So Jacob called the place Peniel, saying, “For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life is preserved.” The sun rose upon him as he passed Peniel, limping because of his hip.”
We find Jacob here in a moment of his life when he hasn’t been making
the best decisions. Jacob, after wrestling his older brother Esau in the womb,
pulls one over on his father Isaac. After covering his hands and neck with
goatskins, he convinces his nearly blind father that he is his hairy brother Esau
and promptly steals the blessing that was meant for his firstborn brother. After
running away, working fourteen years, marrying two women, cheating and running
yet again from his father-in-law, here we find Jacob: with the news that his older brother Esau is on his way to see him, for the first time since the incident. For the first time since he stole the most precious thing possible. And Jacob is understandably terrified. Jacob is left alone on the other side of the river.
Alone. The most vulnerable state in which to experience the truth.
Jacob falls asleep with the expectation of death in the morning, but instead, he gets something different. God comes and wrestles with him until the morning light. Jacob tells God that he will not let him go until God blesses him. Here, Jacob is asking for the validation of the blessing he stole. He needs God to bring legitimacy to his identity as the ‘blessing holder.’
In this moment, after Jacob has been brought to the end of his rope and confronted with the truth of what he has done, he is transformed. His name Jacob—once meaning ‘liar’ and ‘cheat’ is changed to Israel meaning ‘One who prevails with God.’ Jacob’s identity is given a radical overhaul.
So Jacob names the place Peniel which means, “It is because I saw God face-to-face and yet my life was spared.”
Before Jacob could come face-to-face with Esau. He had to come face-to-face with God. He had to come face-to-face with himself. And isn’t it interesting that he got himself into this entire mess, because his father Isaac could. Not. See. His. Face.
Jacob has been exposed to the light and it has shown through in such a way that he cannot walk away the same. Before he could become a patriarch of the Israelite nation, before he could be a holder of the covenant that God gave to Abraham, he had to face his past. He had to face the truth.
In those days, it was common that a human covenant would be accompanied by some sort of external sign. For Abraham, once he is given the covenant, he is circumcised. He receives a permanent mark that he will carry with him for the rest of his life. The sign sets he and his people apart. The same is true for Jacob. He doesn’t walk away without a marker. He doesn’t leave this transformational moment with God without a sign of what he’s been through. He has seen the light. He has known the truth. So he must walk into his new life, with an indicator of the blessing—a constant reminder of the grace that God had on his life.
And maybe even more practically, a physical ailment that will prevent Jacob from running away anymore.
Like Jacob, I wonder sometimes if God is just waiting for us to tell the truth. To shed the facades—the highly edited version of ourselves that we put forth in hopes that others might find it more acceptable. And tell the truth of who we really and fully are. To come to God with every insecurity and doubt and fear.
To come to God alone and at the end of ourselves.
If we step into the light, if we come to terms with the truth of who we are, if we stand face to face with God, we will see that we are candidates for change.
It may involve some wrestling, some truth telling, and perhaps a permanent mark that we will bear long after.
But we will have shown up.
And we will have been transformed.