GRAPPLING WITH GOD - A HOLY WORK

“Israel” Means What?
By: Rev. Phil Dieke, Associate Pastor of Discipleship and Digital Ministry.
“The Bible says it. I believe it. That settles it.”

Have you ever heard that argument? Rather, that conclusion to an argument. I didn’t grow up fundamentalist, but we weren’t far off. In small town Southwest Missouri there weren’t a lot of options. Sure, I attended the United Methodist Church, but it was very much influenced by the seven Baptist and four Pentecostal churches in our small town. “Bapti-costal-ists” we’d often call ourselves. When you’re in the buckle of the Bible Belt, you often don’t question the Bible because you didn’t know that was even an option.
It wasn’t until I began my studies in the Religious Studies Department at Missouri State University that I realized, not only can we question the Bible, there is something quite holy in doing so.
As we enter into a new worship series at White Rock UMC entitled Grappling With God: Untangling Tough Scriptures, it is important to establish from the very beginning that the Bible is not God. Though I don’t think anybody (or denomination) would claim the Bible is indeed God, practically speaking there are many who treat the Bible like the fourth person of the Trinity. The Bible, they claim, is the inerrant and infallible Word of God. Thus, to question the Bible is to also question God and God’s authority.
In the United Methodist Church, we don’t ascribe to this ideology. Rather, we view this questioning as holy work. After all, the name “Israel” means “to struggle with God.” We need look no further than the first book of the Bible to find the origin story of this holy work. Jacob wrestling with the angel (who represents God) tells us that from the very beginning we as humans have been “wrestling” with God.
Wrestling to understand the character and nature of God.
Wrestling to understand who we are in relation to God.
Wrestling to understand how God has called us to be in relationship with one another as well. 
The Bible is not God, nor is it a trump card we can use to end arguments and/or theology disagreements.  As the late Rachel Held Evans said in her book Inspired: Slaying Giants, Walking on Water, and Loving the Bible Again:
While Christians tend to turn to Scripture to end a conversation, Jews turn to Scripture to start a conversation.
As we enter into this series, we do so looking to Grapple With God as we strive to untangle difficult texts of Scripture. Not so we can prove we know more than somebody else. Or that we have a more robust theology. And definitely not to prove we have all the answers. We simply want to start the conversation, not shut it down. 
Of course we hope to grow in our understanding, but, more importantly, we pray for the realization that there is nothing more holy than the practice of Grappling With God. 
Curious to learn more?
You can read more about what we believe about the Bible as United Methodists here.

And just for fun, here is an old Jewish parable told by Philosopher/Theologian Peter Rollins describing the sanctity of grappling:

There is an ancient Jewish parable which illustrates this, in which two rabbis are arguing over a verse in the Torah, an argument that has gone on for over twenty years. In the parable God gets so annoyed by the endless discussion that he comes down and he tells them that he will reveal what it really means. However, right at this moment they respond by saying, "What right do you have to tell us what it means? You gave us the words, now leave us in peace to wrestle with them."
In this parable the rabbis do not want a God’s-eye view because, even if that were possible, that is not the point of faith. Faith seeks to transform reality rather than merely describe it. The parable works from the tradition which states that one must wrestle with the text in every context, rethinking it and learning afresh from it like a piece of art rather than treating it like a textbook to be mastered.

Blessings to you and your grappling!

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