So Jacob called the place Peniel, saying, “For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life is preserved.” (Genesis 32:30)
“Peniel” in Hebrew means, “face or vision of God.” It is a word that refers to having had a face to face encounter with God. This was something seen as rare and even dangerous in Old Testament times. God’s holy otherness was so different than our worldly selves, that anyone who encountered God face to face was likely to die. Later in the Bible, when Moses sees God on the mountain, he has to shield his face from others because just the residual radiance on his face might be enough to harm someone else. Wow!
But this story is one place where that fear of God is challenged. Jacob dares to meet God, wrestle with God, and even he is surprised that he has somehow endured the test. Naming the place “Peniel” is his way of honoring the encounter and lifting up his experience. You can encounter God face to face and live to tell the story!
The story is a reminder to us that God is willing to stay with us even when we challenge and wrestle with God. We often struggle to figure out what to do when we have a difficult issue. Some people even counsel us not to challenge God – whatever happens must be God’s will. Yet this story reminds us that whatever our mindset about what God is or is not doing, being honest and forthright with God – even arguing or wrestling with God, is something God can take and may even bless.
Of course, Jesus takes this episode (that is viewed as unusual) and makes it normal. In Christ, all of us see God face to face and encounter God in the flesh. So in Christ, all encounters with God have a new sense of being face to face for all of us.
So whatever you are wrestling with in your own life, and however you sense God’s role in it, don’t be afraid to spend time with God and push back a bit. God can handle your arguments and respects what you are going through. Getting closer to God is a good thing. And if you believe God can bless you in the midst of whatever you are going through, don’t be afraid to ask. You may come out the other side of the encounter surprised at your own “Peniel” experience and be able to tell of a time when you encountered God face to face and lived to tell about it.