“When our feelings betray us”: meditation on Genesis 32:9, 12

Genesis 32:9, 12: And Jacob said, “O God of my father Abraham and God of my father Isaac, O Lord who said to me, ‘Return to your country and to your kindred, that I may do you good’… But you said, ‘I will surely do you good, and make your offspring as the sand of the sea, which cannot be numbered for multitude.'”

Jacob is preparing to meet his brother, Esau, twenty years after Jacob robbed him of both his birthright and his father’s blessing. Esau vowed to murder him back then. Will he still be angry? Jacob assumes the worst. Most of Genesis 32 recounts Jacob’s plan to appease his brother with generous gifts of livestock. “After that,” he thinks, “I can face him, and perhaps he will forgive me” (v. 20).

In the midst of his fear, Jacob prays a prayer in which he reminds God of his promises to protect him, prosper him, and do right by him.

Of course, if God’s promises are true, why is Jacob afraid? Doesn’t he know that he will be invincible—literally un-killable—until God brings him safely home? Even if Esau were still angry (which he isn’t), he would be unable to harm his brother.

But I know why Jacob is afraid in spite of God’s promises—because I know my own heart. In his moment of greatest fear, Jacob’s feelings have betrayed him, as feelings often do. Jacob’s only defense against his feelings—and our only defense—is the word of God: “The Lord who said to me…” “You have said…”

My point is, contrary to that great REO Speedwagon power ballad, we can fight our feelings—at least our feelings of fear, doubt, and despair—with the objective truth of God’s Word.

So let’s start fighting!

2 thoughts on ““When our feelings betray us”: meditation on Genesis 32:9, 12”

  1. I agree God’s Word stands supreme and immovable, regardless of our feelings or circumstances. The only problem is figuring out what God is telling us about this or that circumstance we face. Probably millions of Christians around the world die of starvation. As I personally know, a number commit suicide. We can have the assurance that God is “standing with us,” but not much confidence in how that presence determines the outcome of whatever we may face. I am not in personal despair, but others sometimes are. My only reply to them that I feel sure about is that, regardless of what happens in this life, if we are God’s children, then heaven awaits, which is eternal, and, as Paul said, far better. (Unfortunately, some fail to take solace even in that!)

    1. We can’t often know what God is doing inside the hearts of his children in the midst of great suffering. But I know from experience that the world’s least secure people (in terms of material wealth) are also least bothered by “first world” questions of theodicy.

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