For the week of November 24, 2007 / 14 Kislev 5768
Torah: Bereshit / Genesis 32:4 - 36:43 (English: 32:3 - 36:43)
Haftarah: Hosea 11:7 - 12:12
So Jacob called the name of the place Peniel, saying, "For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life has been delivered." The sun rose upon him as he passed Penuel, limping because of his hip. (Bereshit / Genesis 32:31,32; English: 32:30,31; ESV)
As I study the Scriptures I am on the look-out for what we might call true spirituality. I am not alone in this trek. From pagans to animists, from the major religions to New Age philosophies, people have spent a great deal of time, energy, and money trying to find true spirituality. Even among those who deny the existence of any actual spiritual dimension in life, there has been a desire to find life's meaning. This also is a type of spirituality in that it assumes some kind of relationship between people and/or between people and nature that is more than just physical.
I believe that true spirituality is found in the Bible. The overriding theme in the Scriptures is one of how we human beings have been alienated from God, our Creator, and how God has sought to restore us to right relationship with him. What I am calling true spirituality refers to both our initial reconciliation to God through the Messiah and the living out of that reconciliation on a daily basis.
The Bible's view of true spirituality stands in contrast to the multitude of counterfeit spiritualities that have existed throughout time until now. Interestingly, the Bible's view of true spirituality also stands in contrast to the false spirituality of many who claim to be Bible believers. While there is room among those committed to the truth of Scripture to differ on various details of spirituality, if we would take the time to compare various so-called biblical spiritualities to the Bible itself, we would soon discover whether or not what we are embracing is truly valid.
In this week's Torah portion, Jacob has an encounter with God that forever changed his personal life and established the name of the nation that would arise from him. Jacob's encounter with God gives us one of the many glimpses we have in the Bible of the essence of true spirituality.
There is one aspect of this encounter that I would like to point out. Understanding this one thing makes all the difference to our overall understanding of what true biblical spirituality really is. What I am referring to is that as a result of Jacob's encounter with God that day, Jacob limped. The Torah tells us that in the midst of this unusual interchange, God injured Jacob. It is true that God also blessed him at that time, but one of the reminders of the blessing would be the pain. Jacob would spend the rest of his life with a physical challenge. Certainly this impediment is nothing compared to the significance of the change of heart he received that day. But still, what does this tell us about true sprituality?
An overall reading of the Bible surely reveals that true sprirituality is rich and meaningful. Yeshua promises his followers what he calls "abundant life" (John 10:10), but it is also includes a life of difficulty and pain (see Philippians 3:10). Difficulties from a variety of sources come to those who know God. In Jacob's case the pain was the result of a direct encounter with God.
There is so much that can be discussed regading this, but I would like to share this one thing here. I suspect that there are many people who, like Jacob, are in pain because of a real encounter with God or as a direct result of truly following him, and yet have not come out of that experence changed for the better in the way Jacob was. The reason for this may well be because of not understanding that the difficulty or pain suffered is part and parcel of true spirituality. God, in his love, knows that we need to be broken before him and others. This is not to say that we have to accept all difficulty and pain in our lives as if from God, but it might be that the very thing that has become a barrier between you and God is actually that which he is seeking to use to both restore you to him and through which he most desires to use you.
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