I was reading about Jacob this week. It seems fooling your father and taking a blessing that was meant to be your brothers is considered righteousness in the Bible, maybe I’m not so bad after all. I’m perplexed as to why God would use an act of trickery to give a blessing and run his entire lineage of people through Jacob, like as if God was bound to the rules of human promises made and couldn’t right the wrong that Jacob had created. Sodom and Gomorrah must have been pretty bad to get fire and brimstone when Jacob and Sarah got exactly what they wanted. It’s like proof that if you are dishonest you actually do get ahead in life, it works.
There I was ranting about what a weird narrative it is and how confusing it was to Rabbi Yehoshua and as per usual he listened to my blabbing which almost always equates to something intellectual like, “it doesn’t make sense” or worse, “it’s not fair!” Yet again per usual Rabbi Yehoshua responded in calm - “the struggle was necessary for the outcome.” We can’t know whether or not it was God’s original plan to give Jacob the blessing over Esau, but we can know what it made of Jacob.
God seems less focused on making our lives hurt less and responding to our mistakes with our time constrained ideas of justice to stop the ripple of their painful effects, but instead he’s fixed on who we become. What if what life does to us and how it makes us the best versions of ourselves is why it’s so hard? Jacob goes through really challenging and severe experiences in his life and comes out on the other end a better man for it, so God gave him what his foolish act required, the blessing and the struggle that would make of him Israel.
He was the one who wrestles with God, the one who walks with a limp because of it, and ultimately the one who became righteous. Maybe God doesn’t reveal himself in more overt ways because our wrestle and our struggle to understand and believe changes us, or the pain in our lives as a result of the fall is rarely resolved because it smooths us out, it sands down the rough edges and makes us usable, potentially even beautiful. Maybe he lets us make poor choices because the weight of the repercussions of it make us resemble is some distant way a form of godliness.
As I’m struggling to understand God as good, the problem may very well be my definition of good, my culturally shaped entitled definition. Good people may be righteous and have good character, but they also don’t let bad things happen to people they love if they can help it, they fix whatever they can, they comfort the broken in felt ways, they’re clear about their intentions, they’re fair, and they express their love in undeniable ways.
Is there a greater good than my good? It may be that the greatest form of expressed goodness is not actually providing relentless happiness, but rather like a parent allowing a child to have a painful experience it’s actually the hardest kind of love to give and wildly selfless. What is must be like to allow for pain for the sake of a child whom a parent loves more deeply than they can understand, to have the means to fix it and yet have to hold back and watch it happen; there is no greater love, there is no greater form of sacrifice. C.S. Lewis says in The Problem of Pain, “we are not metaphorically but in very truth, a Divine work of art, something that God is making, and therefore something with which He will not be satisfied until it has a certain character.” There must also be terrible things that are a result of this broken world we live in that God hates, why He doesn't fix those I haven't the faintest idea.
None of this makes the pain of our lives better, we would probably never choose the hurt for the result of our character and often times may not find the cost/benefit ratio to work out, but if there’s a small purpose in it our perspective shifts. Like childbirth, it’s one of the most painful things a person can experience but because the pain gave life, nearly every woman would say it’s worth it. In Jacob’s case, I'm sure one never forgets the pain of 14 years of work for his wife, or the regret and fear of a beloved brother, or of a limp, its presence nagging with every step. I wonder if the struggle that Jacob’s choices in part inflicted is what made him become one of the great and righteous forefathers of the God of the Bible. I wonder if he would say it was worth it, he might even say it was good.