By Michele Cushatt
There are times when I read the Old Testament and struggle to make sense of it. The dysfunctional families, murderous agendas, strange dreams and experiences. It seems left field, far-fetched, impossible. When I look at what God does or doesn’t do, I struggle to understand Him. How could a real and loving God act the way He does? I don’t get it.
Until a day comes when, somehow, I get a glimpse of the bigger picture, the greater story. Then, if I’m able to stand back if only for a moment, I can see the beauty of the whole.
Generations after Jacob dreamed of a divine ladder connecting heaven to earth, Jesus makes a statement that fits the puzzle pieces together. As he begins a three-year ministry that upsets the religious and rescues the desperate, he gathers a group of 12 messed-up, inconsequential, uneducated men. It is there Jesus gives a head-nod to the dream Jacob experienced so many years before: “Very truly I tell you, you will see ‘heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending on’ the Son of Man” (John 1:51).
Jacob’s ladder foreshadowed the greater glory, one that was fulfilled hundreds of years later when a man named Jesus became the established, irrevocable, unalterable connection between heaven and earth.
As fantastical as Jacob’s dream was, it remained only the barest hint. Because a day was coming when Jesus’ life and death bridged the distance wrought by trauma in the human heart. Jacob’s dream wasn’t about a ladder or even the angels climbing up and down it. It pointed to God’s relentless desire to attach to the people he loves.
He is the bridge connecting the glory of heaven to the humiliation of man. Although fully divine, God chose to put on human flesh—the ultimate expression of humility—in order to be with us.
Through Jesus, heaven opened and God landed with two dirty human feet on the same earth where you and I stand.
No matter how hard we may try, we have no ability to reach God. We cannot climb a ladder of our spirituality to touch him. We can’t even get our act together enough to be worthy of him. Instead, Jesus enters where we dream on stone pillows, running from one crisis and toward another. He meets us there. Not because we deserve it but because his covenant love can’t help it.
Later in Genesis, Jacob experiences a second faith-changing event. This time, he is escaping his angry father-in-law and running back home to reconcile, maybe to reconnect with the brother he swindled. Once again, Jacob finds himself alone in the middle of nowhere. And once again, God meets him there: “A man wrestled with him till daybreak. When the man saw that he could not overpower him, he touched the socket of Jacob’s hip so that his hip was wrenched as he wrestled with the man . . . Then the man said, ‘Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with humans and have overcome’ ” (Gen. 32:24–25, 28).
After a long night of struggle, God changes Jacob’s name from “he grabs the heel” to “he struggles with God.” With that simple name change, Jacob becomes less of an opportunist and more of a warrior, someone God refuses to give up on. Someone with whom God chooses to remain in relationship.
Whereas Jacob named the place of the ladder Bethel, he named the place of his limp Peniel. “The face of God.”
As far as I can tell, Jacob walked with a limp the rest of his life. And I can’t help but wonder whether Jacob’s dislocated hip was as much an altar as the stone pillow he once slept on. God marked him, and his limp became a pin on the map of his story, reminding him of his wrestling match in the black of the night and the God who met him there.
And after all was said and done, Jacob didn’t memorialize the wrestling or the wound.
What he remembered was God’s face.
When I can’t look myself in the face, God turns my head to look at his. His love rescues good families and dysfunctional ones, ego addicts and drug addicts. And though we may wrestle long into the night and wake up with a limp, on the other side of the struggle is a love that will always reach down. And with one glimpse of his glorious face, we’ll find new grace and courage to overcome.
As Russell Moore, a Southern Baptist pastor and leader, writes in his book The Storm-Tossed Family, “You are not your genealogy. You are not your family tree. You are not your family. After all, if you are in Christ, you are a new creation.”
“ ‘Do not be afraid, Jacob my servant, for I am with you,’ declares the Lord” (Jer. 46:28).
Lift up your head, Warrior. Every now and then, heaven opens and a hand reaches down to connect the past and the future with a story bigger than our own. Like Jacob’s ladder, it hints of a greater salvation, a God who is more relentless than our worst circumstances, and a deliverance that isn’t just for one man and his children but for those who have already lived and died and those yet to be born.
Can you see his face? It’s the face of a God who sees you where you are.
And meets you there.
Taken from Relentless: The Unshakeable Presence of a God Who Never Leaves by Michele Cushatt. Click here to learn more about this title.
Where is God when life is filled with so much suffering? How can I be sure of God’s presence and affection, even in my pain? Can you believe in God and still wrestle with questions and doubt? These are the questions honestly explored in Relentless.
Whether in struggle, illness, death, or failure, the presence of pain causes us to question the presence of God. We pray and watch the sky, crossing our spiritual fingers for hardcore proof of God’s nearness. And in the silence, we sense something more sinister: perceived abandonment.
But what if we could collect evidence that God hasn’t left us? What if we could be absolutely certain of God’s presence and affection, strengthening our faith against any assault?
Woven throughout Scripture sits a single, extraordinary theme: God is with us. Ours is a God who speaks through burning bushes and leads through pillars of fire, who responds to a broken world by giving himself.
Like the Old Testament story of Joshua’s altar of twelve stones, Relentless delivers twelve key biblical stories that demonstrate God’s unfailing presence. Each chapter offers an invitation to identify a “stone” in your own life as tangible evidence of God’s nearness. With the turn of the last page, you will have discovered twelve markers of your own, an altar of memory to carry you through questions and losses, even ones yet to come.
For the truth-seekers, those drowning in impossible questions, and those who find themselves swallowed up by the dark, Relentless is an invitation to search for divine presence in our everyday stories. With Michele Cushatt’s engaging narrative style, this transformational journey reassures us that God, indeed, is with us.
Michele Cushatt speaks internationally to a wide variety of audiences including Women of Faith, Life Today TV, Compassion International, Ziglar Family, Family Life Blended, and Focus on the Family. A three-time head and neck cancer survivor and parent of “children from hard places,” Michele is a (reluctant) expert of trauma, pain and the deep human need for authentic connection. She and her husband, Troy, share a blended family of six children, including biological children, stepchildren, and foster-adopt children. They live in Denver, Colorado. Learn more at MicheleCushatt.com.
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