Growing up as a boy, a highlight of my week came on Saturday when I went to watch sport on TV with a family friend, Mr Padgett. We had no TV, so this was a real treat. We watched horse racing, wrestling and got the football scores. Halfway through his wife would bring us a cup of tea, with a delicious snack.
The wrestling was mostly play-acting, but it was fun to watch as the two wrestlers threw each other around the ring. The referee tried to get them to fight fairly, but it was all part of the act. The winner was the one who claimed from his opponent ‘Two falls, one submission, or a knockout.’
That phrase has lingered in my mind, so that when I read of Jacob wrestling with God this is what I think about – one man being overpowered by another and forced into submission. When we see Jesus wrestling with God in the Garden of Gethsemane, I find this image resurfaces too, as if he is being forced to do something he didn’t want to do, against his will. And whenever the question of my own submission to God arises, I have a tendency to feel bullied by God into giving up my most cherished dreams and ambitions.
This is of course a distorted view of God and what was happening in Gethsemane, and a terrible misrepresentation of Christian discipleship. Psychologist David Benner has helped me through his writings to redefine my concept of submission. Surrender to God, he says, is always surrender to love. First we realise how deeply God loves us. Then, when we are assured of that unconditional, unlimited, and unchanging love, we can offer ourselves to him as a response of love, knowing that his will is good and perfect and worthy of our full acceptance (Romans 12:2).
Benner writes, ‘Christian obedience should always be based on surrender to a person, not simply acceptance of an obligation. It is surrender to love, not submission to a duty. . . We should obey because he has won our hearts in love. If he has not, our focus should not be so much on obedience as on knowing his love. For once we get that solidly in place, obedience begins to take care of itself.’
The call of Jesus to each of us is a call to be aware of his presence, to turn toward him and to surrender to his love. This is a call he offers us each and every day of our lives.
‘Take my love, my Lord I pour, At thy feet its treasure store; Take myself, and I will be, Ever, only, all for Thee.’ (FR Havergal)