My host turned to me with a grin and said: 

“I would like to introduce you to Jihad”.  

Here I was in the heart of the middle east being introduced to global terrorism’s choice word for Holy War. He clearly knew he was provoking a reaction in an innocent westerner and, may I say, I was not the first. 

“This is Pastor Jihad, and you will be speaking at the church he leads in the Beqaa valley on Sunday”.   

Jihad then spoke, with a well-rehearsed line crafted for incredulous westerners: 

“Jihad is Arabic for struggle, it’s the word used to describe Jacob’s struggle with God in Genesis 32.”   

Genesis 32 is a defining moment in which Jacob meets God face to face and is renamed Israel (which probably means “he who struggles with God”). The whole nation of Israel is named after this event. The character of God’s people is defined as people who wrestle with the living God.  

This is the story we will be digging into on Sunday, when, you will be delighted to know, we will be welcoming Edwin Gunn as our preacher.  

Could it be that God is showing us that for human beings to be companions of God will require struggle?  

Jacob’s struggle testifies that growth means facing dark nights of confrontation with ourselves and God.  

Jacob’s Jihad shows that getting into step with God involves God wrestling our restlessness into his embrace. It shows us that growth occurs not through passive compliance or the breaking of our wills but as we grapple to align our desires and abilities with his purposes.  

Jacob’s night of wrestling presents us with the hope of transformation:  Jacob came out a changed man with a new name, a new purpose and, dare I say it, a limp. 

Poet Malcolm Guite was once accosted by an administrator after a poem he was duplicating crashed her photocopier.  She confronted him saying “your poetry is jamming my machine!” 

In poetic style his comeback came in verse ( 

My poetry is jamming your machine. 

It broke the photocopier, I’m to blame, 

With pictures copied from a world unseen.  

For chosen words can change the things they mean 

And set the once-familiar world aflame. 

With pictures copied from a world unseen 

The mental props give way, on which you lean. 

The world you see will never be the same, 

My poetry is jamming your machine. 

With pictures copied from a world unseen 

In Genesis 32 God jams Jacob’s machine. He too is confronted with realities from a world unseen. That’s what it takes to change: a failure in our familiar ways, a dark night of the soul and the imaging of Gods truth into our souls. Its in such places where new life strikes, where turn-arounds happen, and the deep work of God breaks through.  

As Barbara Brown Taylor has said: 

“New life starts in the dark. Whether it’s a seed in the ground, a baby in the womb, or Jesus in the tomb, it starts in the dark.”