I do these weekly Study Guides for our church home group leaders. I read a bunch of commentaries on the sermon text, and condense the scholarly thoughts into a 2 page verse-by-verse commentary our leaders can use to help answer people questions if need be.
Recently, the sermon text was on Jacob wrestling with God. One point that commentators found odd was the moment after Jacob is blessed and his name is changed to Israel, he then pleads for the stranger to tell his name. What’s going on? I was really struck by John Calvin’s commentary on the text, and I think it holds some life-giving energy for work- and world-weary seminarians and ministers (emphasis mine):
“[Why,] as if he were of doubtful mind, does [Jacob] now inquire the name of him whom he had before acknowledged to be God? But the solution of the question is easy; for, though Jacob does acknowledge God, yet, not content with an obscure and slight knowledge, he wishes to ascend higher. And it is not to be wondered at, that the holy man, to whom God had manifested himself under so many veils and coverings, that he had not yet obtained any clear knowledge of him, should break forth in this wish; nay, it is certain that all the saints, under the law, were inflamed with this desire.”
This is the sort of conversion I feel is behind the Christian life in communion with God. And this is the conversion that even we seminarians need as our life-blood and sustenance. It is a conversion to a greater degree of intimacy; an intimacy we cannot but enter without being changed.
You cannot ascend higher into the depths of God as you are. You must experience an existential, soul-level change in order to be swept into the current. This is different than our initial conversion into faith and relationship with Christ. After wrestling with God at one level, and even though you know who he is, you need more. You ask for his name, just to get any glimpse more of who he is.
But it is so hard. WHere is our hope in this endeavor amidst all the studying, conjugating, preaching, and learning?
Calvin goes on to say that God never answers Jacob because Jacob was asking pre-Jesus. The patriarchs have full knowledge of God withheld from them so that this knowledge could come through Christ. It is by that access, by the Spirit working in our souls and through his Word, that we get to see and hear the name and the face Jacob never did.
Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied of the grace that was to be yours made careful search and inquiry, inquiring about the person or time that the Spirit of Christ within them indicated when it testified in advance to the sufferings destined for Christ and the subsequent glory. It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you, in regard to the things that have now been announced to you through those who brought you good news by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven—things into which angels long to look! (1 Pet.1:10-12)
Remember (and this is both humble and encouraging!), these conversions are done to you. They are not something you do. We do not press into spiritual disciplines and means of grace to convert ourselves that we might know God more deeply. We press into them so that, at some sovereignly-appointed time in some sovereignly-appointed way, we might be changed in order to know God more.
So prep your soul as fertile soil and pray, press in, and wait. For our God longs to know us more deeply than even we long to know him. He cares more about our Communion with him than we do. Trust that, and keep wrestling and crying out for his name.