Wrestling With God
Nikos Kazantzakis (1883-1957) is one of the renowned writers in world literature. Born in Heraklion, the capital city of the Greek island of Crete, he earned a Ph. D. in Philosophy from Sorbonne University in Paris. He excelled in his writings as a novelist, poet, playwright, and journalist. He was nominated for Nobel Prize nine times. In 1957 when the Nobel Prize in Literature was awarded to Albert Camus, he lost the coveted prize by one vote only. However, Camus said later that Kazantzakis deserved to win the Nobel Prize a hundred times more than himself.
A member of the Greek Orthodox Church, Kazantzakis authored widely-read books like Zorba the Greek, The Last Temptation of Christ, St. Francis, and Report to Greco, which is his autobiography. In this autobiography, he recalls from his young days a visit with Fr. Makarios, an old monk at a monastery on Mount Athos. Since Fr. Makarios had a great reputation for holiness, Kazantzakis asked the monk, "Do you still wrestle with the devil?"
"Oh, no," Fr. Makarios replied, "I used to wrestle with him all the time. But now I've grown old and tired, and the devil has grown old and tired with me. So I leave him alone, and he leaves me alone." "Then your life is easy now?" Kazantzakis asked. "Oh, no," Fr. Makarios replied. "Life is much harder now. For now, I wrestle with God." Surprised at the answer, Kazantzakis asked, "You wrestle with God and hope to win?" "No," said Fr. Makarios, "I wrestle with God and hope to lose!"
If we hear about wrestling with the devil, we will not be surprised as we also often wrestle with him in our own lives by way of temptations. However, hearing about wrestling with God makes us also astonished since we can't even think of wrestling with God. Nevertheless, people often wrestle with God, as we see clearly in the Bible.
When God decided to destroy the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah because of the wickedness of the people, Abraham intervened on their behalf and tried to talk God out of destroying them. Abraham's lengthy conversation with God (Genesis 18:16-33) was equal to a wrestling match with God in which Abraham had to accept defeat at the end.
When God chose Moses as the leader of the Israelites to lead them from the slavery of the Egyptians, he protested, saying, "Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?" (Exodus 3:11). Even after God promised his protection and support for his mission, Moses begged God, "If you please, my Lord, send someone else" (Exodus 4:13). He had a genuine reason for this request. Moses said, "If you please, my Lord, I have never been eloquent, neither in the past nor now that you have spoken to your servant; but I am slow of speech and tongue" (Exodus 4:10).
However, God did not relent, and Moses had to accept defeat and abide by God's decision. When Jeremiah was chosen to be a prophet, he wrestled with God saying, "Lord God, I do not know how to speak. I am too young!" (Jeremiah 1:6). However, he also had to accept defeat and abide by the decision of God. The same thing happened in the case of Jesus, the Son of God. When he was confronted with the impending suffering and death on the cross, he prayed, "Father, if you are willing, take this cup away from me" (Luke 22:42). Jesus was wrestling with God to make him change his mind.
When we read these stories of the wrestling matches with God, we realize that they became pleasing to God precisely because they were willing to accept defeat at the hands of God. What made them great was their willingness to accept defeat and abide by the will of God. Because of this realization, Fr. Makarios said that he hoped to lose in his wrestling with God.
All of us often wrestle with God, and it happens while we pray. Our prayers are often meant to make God change his will for us; we present all kinds of arguments before him to support our cause. It is not easy for us to accept defeat at the hands of God and abide by his will. It is seldom that we say, 'not my will but thy will be done.'
There is nothing wrong in wrestling with God and presenting our needs before him. In fact, as children of the heavenly Father, we should always present our needs before him with confidence. However, if our prayers are not answered the way we want, we should not murmur and complain. Instead, we should accept God's will and say, 'not my will but thy will be done,' as Jesus said at the Garden of Gethsemane. It is then we lose to God and become victorious.
Hence, like Fr. Makarios, let us focus on losing our wrestling match with God as it is the only way to victory. However, it is easier said than done. We need the grace of God to accept defeat at his hands and say, 'thy will be done.' Therefore, let us always be open to the grace of God when we wrestle with him in prayer.