When God Gets a Grip On Us
God can't be tied down. If anyone disagrees, try it and see what happens. Worship God the way that seems good to you. Tell people that God can save them without Christ, without His gifts, and without the Gospel. Tell them God can forgive sin without the Gospel, without a preacher. Do what seems good to you and see what happens.
Or, we can focus on where God chooses to reveal Himself to us. God chooses to gather us around Jesus, His words and His gifts. He gathers us to the Gospel and Baptism. He sends us a preacher to deliver His gifts to us. These are sure signs that He wants to forgive us, save us, and give us a new shot at life. God can't be tied down, which is why He gathers us together and surrounds us with His Word. He wants to help us so that we're not distracted and destroyed by worship and works that seem good to each of us.
For example, most of Jacob's life had been about worship and works that seemed good to him. Jacob was a schemer and a coward. He was a master at running his mouth and running away from fights he started. But then the God that can't be tied down got a grip on Jacob. God in His goodness had come to discipline Jacob. He playfully wrestled with Jacob, the way a father wrestles with his son.
But for Jacob, the wrestling match stirred up grief and anxiety. To him, it was a fight to the death. To God, it was just a game. God wrestled with Jacob to strengthen his faith in the same way a father takes away his son's toy, then challenges the boy to take back the toy. When this happens at home, it's a fun game. It's play-fighting, sparring. When it happens between God and Jacob, or between God and any of us, it's very serious, very difficult, and seems like God wants to fight to the death.
When we get wrapped up in tying God down, when we worship and work in a way that seems good to each of us, it's impossible to recognize God as loving Father and helpful Savior. There's no joy, no life. There's just temptation after temptation, struggle after struggle, and our inevitable rendezvous with death. That’s why, when God comes to discipline and help us, we wrestle with Him, thinking like Adam and Eve, and Jacob, and so many of the saints that Gods come to kill us, and so we won't let Him go unless He gives each of us the life we want.
But we, like Adam and Eve, and Jacob, and so many of the saints, have seen the Lord [in His Word and works] and lived. We may not have thought God intended good for us. Maybe His discipline felt like it fell heavy on us and there's nothing playful about how God treats us. But, God’s our loving Father and helpful Savior. He baptizes us into Jesus' death. He speaks His Gospel to us to forgive us, strengthen us, and encourage us. He bodies and bloodies us to strengthen faith and increase love in us.
God hasn't rejected us. Jesus doesn't come to kill us. He's come to set us free from all the worship and works that seem good to each of us, that try to tie Him down and make Him give us what we want.
Our helpful Savior's got a grip on each of us. He intends to do only good for us, and He'll never let us go, just as Jesus says: "no one will snatch them out of my hand." (John 10:28)
God can’t be tied down, but He’s got a grip on each of us that’s unbreakable. Nothing can pull us away from Him: not sin, not death, not Satan. No one can snatch us out of our Savior’s hand.
For more on this topic, see Dr. Martin Luther commentary on Genesis 32:24 (LW 6:125-131), from which I drew much of the language for this article.