I feel like I have narrative whiplash when reading this chapter. In spite of the many reasons to question Jacob’s character, the fact remains that he is God’s chosen one and I certainly expect for the unfolding story to feature God directing him in his efforts to overcome any of his adversaries. Stories make a lot more sense when there’s a clear “good guy” and a clear “bad guy”. We can then get behind the hero, identify with both his virtues and vices and cheer him on in spite of his shortcomings. In the absence of truly good “behavior”, it can be tough to know who we are supposed to cheer for in the last few chapters of Genesis and I suppose the easiest way to identify them is to simply pay attention to which one God is speaking directly to. Which one is being led by God.
Well, “Houston we have a problem”, because there seem to be 2 guys in a pretty important fight and neither seems to be selling me on why I should pull for them. Sure, Jacob seems to have been shafted by Laban lately, but Jacob’s done his share of “shafting” before. Both have family and property in the balance. And most confusing of all, God is speaking directly to both of them!
These are the kinds of stories that frustrate me…that is of course, until I meditate on it and see that this is my story. More appropriately, this is our story. Both men seem to have some valid points. Neither is perfect and their mistakes have caused each other to stop trusting the other. There is no coming to terms as neither will concede to the other. So how do they get past it? Forgiveness. After everything they’ve been through and done to each other, Jacob and Laban realize that too much is at stake. They make a covenant and deal with it. There is some recognition on both parts, as well as plenty of affirmation to go around. They both recognize that no one is perfect, but they both serve the same God who seems to be leading them toward some kind of reconciliation.
We resemble this story much more than we know. We like to pretend that we live in a world of black and white. Perhaps this is appropriate some of the time. Certainly truth is black and white. Jesus is the only way to heaven. Every single person in the world deserves freedom. These are virtuous things and should be stated as absolutes. However, we have to be able to mature in our relationships with other people to the point where we can recognize that when it comes to conflict with each other (especially in the church) there are very few (if any) absolutes. We are never completely innocent, but are quick to say we are completely right. Anyone who has actually listened to a couple of friends tell both sides of the issue can understand that most of our division is a lot more nuanced than we’d like to let on.
The world is not black and white. Mostly, it is simply filled with people and people tend to not get along. They tend to make much of little when it comes to having something against someone else. This is especially true of the church and we tend to divide over the silliest things. This is troubling and awful, and quite simply breaks the heart of God.
Did you know that we find Jesus wept more than once in the Bible? He wept at a funeral for Lazarus (John 11:35). He wept for the city of Jerusalem when he saw it before his triumphal entry (Luke 19:41). There was another night in which the Savior’s heart was very heavy. It was his last night with his disciples. He had a lot of things on his mind, I’m sure. There was so much he had yet to tell them, but there was so little time. During his last meal with them, he looked toward heaven and prayed. Everything that was troubling him and everything he was feeling was poured out to the Father. He made mention of a few things in that prayer, but among them was a cry for unity…
“My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one—I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.”
– John 17:20-23
He could have spent the time teaching them how to organize the church, but no, he trusted us to figure that out. He could have explained in exact detail what would happen during the end times, but I’m sure he felt that would all work out in the end. No, he used his time wisely and prayed for the thing that we would need help with the most. He prayed for us to get along. He prayed for us to love each other. He prayed for this, because in his mind, the world’s reception of the gospel hinged upon it.
As I read the story of it now 2,000 years later, I am convicted. I am troubled because I wonder how much we are hindering the mission of the gospel by fighting amongst ourselves. I have to admit I thought that our country’s morality was going down the tubes because of the evilness of our culture. I have to wonder now if we are the ones responsible. I thought our nation was doomed because of unbelief. Now, I see that their unbelief is due at least in part (perhaps a very large part) to the church’s behavior. Not individual clean living, but rather communal behavior. We simply do not do this whole unity thing very well.
“The greatest single cause of atheism in the world today is Christians: who acknowledge Jesus with their lips, walk out the door, and deny Him by their lifestyle. That is what an unbelieving world simply finds unbelievable.”
– Brennan Manning
It’s an often-used quote that I feel is really applicable to this subject. I wonder if the reverse can be true? Can the greatest revival and response to the gospel be caused by a church full of imperfect people who love each other perfectly? If we dedicated ourselves to unity, would we see God’s spirit poured out on the world in such a way that we’d give Pentecost a run for its money? What I wouldn’t give to see that day in my time. It starts with me. It starts with you. God make us one.